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Thursday, July 18, 2024

JUST IN: Supreme Court affirms Bank PHB former MD’s 6yrs jail term

The Supreme Court has put a stop to 13 years legal battle after upholding 6-year jail term handed to the former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche.

It held that the judgement was passed after it discovered that the appellant, Atuche, did not attempt to dislodge the finding of the trial court and the Court of Appeal verdict on his credibility.

In the unanimous judgment read by Justice Moore Adumein, the apex Court, while relying on its previous decisions that where the decision of a trial court on the demeanor of a party or witness is supported by documentary evidence tendered, an appellate court has no business in tampering with the decision of the court.

The court further held that the appellant had not given it any reason to tamper with the concurrent finding of the two lower courts which were indications that their stance will be upheld by the apex court.

Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth, and one Ugo Anyanwu, had been arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2011 before Justice Lateefat Okunnu of the Lagos High Court in a prosecution that was handled by Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Kemi Pinheiro on behalf of the EFCC.

The trio were arraigned on a 27 count amended information over a N25.7 billion fraud.

On June 16, 2021, Justice Okunnu in a judgment that lasted about 12 hours, convicted Atuche alongside a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu.

The court convicted the duo on 21 of the 27-count amended charge of conspiracy to commit felony and stealing brought against them by the EFCC.

Justice Okunnu held that the EFCC successful proved its case against the convicts beyond reasonable doubt.

Atuche and Anyanwu were sentenced 12 years and and 10 years respectively by the High Court.

However, it was reduced by the Court of Appeal, with Atuche getting six years while Anyanwu got eight years.

She freed Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth on the grounds that the EFCC failed to link her to the crime. The court insisted that suspicion no matter how strong cannot take the place of fact.

The judge held that it was not proven that she was aware of the source of the funds she received into her account from her husband and she had no powers to take any decision to influence the transaction.

The convicts were to serve their jail terms at the Kirikiri Maximum Correctional Facility in Lagos.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, the convicts approached the appeal court and on the 23rd of June, 2022, the Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction of both men.

The appellate court also clarified that Atuche’s jail term, as handed down by the lower court, is six years concurrently, rather than 12 years.

The Justices, however, reduced Anyanwu’s sentence from 10 years to eight years.

They also upheld the discharge and acquittal of Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth.

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