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Supreme Court upholds conviction of ex-bank PHB MD, Atuche

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


Supreme Court upholds conviction of ex-bank PHB MD, Atuche

After about 13 years of trial, the Supreme Court, on Friday morning, upheld the conviction of the former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB Plc, Mr. Francis Atuche.

In the unanimous judgment read by Justice Moore Adumein, the Supreme Court held that the appellant, Francis Atuche, did not attempt to dislodge the finding of the trial court and the Court of Appeal on his credibility.

The court, relying on its previous decisions, affirmed 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 tampering with the decision of the court.

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In conclusion, the court held that the appellant had not given it any reason to tamper with the concurrent finding of the two lower courts.

Mr. Atuche, his wife Elizabeth, and Mr. Ugo Anyanwu had been arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2011 before Justice Lateefat Okunnu of the Lagos High Court. The prosecution 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 the 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 successfully proved its case against the convicts beyond reasonable doubt.

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

However, their sentences were reduced by the Court of Appeal, with Atuche getting six years while Anyanwu got eight years. Justice Okunnu 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 Court of Appeal, which on June 23, 2022, 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.

On further appeal to the Supreme Court, the apex court earlier this year heard Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Wole Olanipekun leading Chief Anthony Idigbe and Prof. Fidelis Oditah in the appeal initiated by Mr. Atuche against his conviction, while Dr. Kemi Pinheiro, who held the fiat of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, led the team of lawyers representing the state, including Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Sebastine Hon.

The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court this morning brings to finality this criminal charge after over thirteen years.

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