A Nigerian court has sentenced Francis Atuche, a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank), to six years imprisonment for defrauding the bank of N25.7 billion (about $63m).
Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Ikeja High Court in a 12-hour judgment on Wednesday also sentenced Ugo Anyanwu, a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank to four years’ imprisonment.
Okunnu, however, discharged Mr Atuche’s wife Elizabeth, who was facing trial alongside the duo.
The judge in sentencing the pair upheld the arguments of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission noting that the commission has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the convicts committed the fraud.
“The first defendant (Atuche) and the third defendant (Anyanwu) are found guilty of counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23 and 24 of the charges contained in the information, and are convicted of conspiracy and stealing,” the judge said.
“On counts 12, 13, 21, 22 and 26, I pronounce the first to third defendants not guilty as the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
“On counts 25 and 27, the second defendant (Elizabeth) is found not guilty.
“By stealing from the bank, they stole from innocent customers of the bank. I hereby make an order of restitution against the first and third defendants to refund the sums stated in counts one to 11, 14 and 24.
“The sums are to paid to the relevant agencies that recovered the funds on behalf of the bank.
“The first defendant is hereby sentenced to six years imprisonment on counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23 and 24. The third defendant is hereby sentenced to four years imprisonment on counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23 and 24.”
According to NAN, Okunnu noted that both convicts defrauded the bank using well-recognised stockbrokers to transfer money under the guise of loans and shares.
“It was a well-planned, well-executed scheme but the bubble burst when the Central Bank of Nigeria intervened,” she said.
“The first defendant (Atuche) was diversionary and evasive on the witness stand; sometimes confrontational and rude. The third defendant (Anyanwu) was also combative and rude under cross-examination.”
The judge however observed that there was no proof that the two companies affiliated with Elizabeth, Atuche’s wife fraudulently received N2 billion worth of Bank PHB shares.
“Nothing was proved beyond reasonable doubt that she silently or knowingly endorsed the perpetuation of fraud. Rather, it was the first defendant (Atuche). On account of this, the prosecution failed to prove its case of stealing against the second defendant (Elizabeth),” Okunnu said.
Atuche and the others had been standing trial in the past 10 years.
By Abel Ejikeme