Two top ex-Bank PHB officials have been sentenced to prison by a Lagos High Court on Wednesday.
Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja on Wednesday sentenced the former Managing Director of defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche and a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu to 126 years imprisonment for stealing a N25.7 billion theft belonging to the bank.
The 3rd defendant, Anyanwu was sentenced to eighty-four years of the twenty seven counts amendment with which he was charged with.
The former bank chiefs were convicted by the court on 21 of the 27-count amended charge of conspiracy to commit felony and stealing brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
High Court sitting in Ikeja sentenced former managing director of defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche to over 6 years in prison.
Ikeja High Court on Wednesday was tensed, as Anyanwu begged Justice Lateefa Okunnu not to send him to prison following his conviction.
In a judgment that lasted over 10 hours, Justice Lateefat Okunnu convicted Atuche alongside a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu.
The two were convicted on at least 6 of a 27-count amended charge of conspiracy to commit a felony and stealing brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
While Atuche who was found guilty on counts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 23 of the charge would serve a 6-year term for each count, Anyanwu will serve a 4-year jail term for counts 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 22 and 24 of the amended charge.
They are to serve their jail term consecutively. This sentence is coming after a trial that lasted over 12 years.
In delivering her sentence, Justice Okunnu held that the EFCC successfully proved its case against the convicts beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge rejected claims by the defendants suggesting that they were merely professionally negligent.
She specifically held that Atuche and Anyanwu abused their powers, ignored established rules and regulations thereby putting the bank and depositors’ funds in danger.
The court also came to the conclusion that the convicts corruptly took advantage of their positions to confer on themselves undue financial benefits without regard to the health of the bank.
“The convict stole from the bank and depositors and because of their action, taxpayers money was used to bail out the bank”.
Justice Okunnu held that she had considered the plea of the convicts, but there must be consequences for wrongdoing, adding that sentences are not just for punishment but also for deterrence.
She also ruled that the defendant should make restitution of the amount stolen from the bank. They are to pay back the sum of N25.7billion to the Federal government to replace the funds stolen from the public to bail out the bank.
According to the Judge, they are to serve their jail terms at the Kirikiri maximum correctional facility in Lagos.
Justice Okunnu however, cleared Atuche’s wife on the charge of conspiracy and stealing.
According to the judge, the EFCC failed to link her to the crime and insisted that suspicion no matter how strong can not 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 EFCC had alleged that between November 2007 and April 2008, the accused persons stole about N25.7bn belonging to the bank.
The anti-graft agency had also claimed that of the total N25.7bn, they stole about N14.7bn by fraudulently describing it as a loan to some companies and subsequently converted the said sum to personal use.
The Commission had listed the companies as Future View Securities, Extra Oil Limited, Resolution Trust and Investment Limited, and Tradjek Nigeria Ltd.
The EFCC also alleged that another N11bn stolen by the defendants was used to purchase about 984,375,000 units of Bank PHB shares for themselves.
According to the commission, the sum used for purchasing the shares was described as a loan to some companies including, Guesstrade Services, Sentron Trading, Montrax Investico, Claremount Management Ltd., Trenton Trade, and others.
In proof of its case against the accused persons, the EFCC called 12 witnesses who gave oral evidence. It also subpoenaed 6 others to present some documents which were admitted as exhibits by the court.
After Atuche and Anyanwu’s conviction, the judge asked if they had any plea to make. They answered in the affirmative.
Addressing the court, Atuche begged not to be sent to jail. He prayed Okunnu to temper justice with mercy.
“All the time I was the MD of Bank PHB, I gave my all to the bank.
Never at any material time did it occur to me that I would set up a scheme to defraud the bank.
“I plead for mercy, leniency, your kindness, and I plead that out of your kindness and generosity, you will not allow me to go to jail.
“I am sorry and remorseful,” he said. Atuche told the court that as a professional banker and chartered accountant, he certainly did not want to become a convict.
I pray that God will place in your heart to be kind.
“I plead from the bottom of my heart. I’m extremely sorry; today will be a turning point in my life, I’m very sorry,” he begged.
Also Atuche’s counsel, Mr Paul Nneoma, in his plea for mercy, described Atuche as a responsible family man who had never been convicted of any crime.
He appealed to the court to give Atuche a fine instead of prison sentence. Anyanwu also told the court that he was barely a year old when he lost his mother .
What I achieved in the banking industry is by stint of hard work. I have suffered in the last 10 years of this trial.
“I am sorry if I was appearing cocky in the witness box during my examination-in-chief.
“I have two kids who are barely teenagers. They look up to their father, and I wonder what kind of impact this will have on them.
“Please temper justice with mercy,” Anyanwu prayed. Anyanwu’s counsel, Mr Silva Ogwemoh (SAN), also begged for mercy on his client.
He said that one of Anyanwu’s children had a medical condition requiring special attention. He added that Anyanwu was hypertensive, urging that the court should take judicial notice of the COVID-19 pandemic and impose a fine on him instead of custodial sentence.
Reacting to the pleas of the defendants, EFCC team led by Mr Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), requested for a stiff sentence as well as an order of restitution against the convicts. He said that Lagos State Government spent much funds and resources prosecuting the case in the past 10 years.
We were taken to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court several times by the defendants.
“During the trial, they were rude and cocky. That is not remorse, the third defendant (Anyanwu) decided to hold unto his loyalty to his boss (Atuche) against his loyalty to the state.
“We pray the court imposes the maximum sentence and orders restitution,” he said.