Francis Atuche, the sacked Managing Director of Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank), and his wife, Elizabeth Atuche, today asked Justice Lateefat Okunnu to quash fraud charges instituted against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The anti-corruption agency filed a suitaccusing the couple of siphoning N25.7 billion from the bank.
Anthony Idigbe, counsel to the Atuches, told the court that the couple has “no case to answer.” He argued that the prosecution has no evidences linking his clients to the fraud. Even though Mr. Idigbe conceded that Ms. Atuche owns substantial shares in Gasali Yakubu Nigeria Limited, a client of the bank to which account much of the stolen funds was believed to have been diverted, he still contended that there was insufficient “prima facie” evidence linking the woman to the fraud.
Urging the court to acquit the defendants, Mr. Idigbe sought to discredit testimonies by the prosecution’s key witnesses,pointing to what he argued were significant discrepancies in the accounts of the different witnesses.
A similar application to dismiss was moved by counsel to the third defendant, Ugo Anyanwu, a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank. His counsel, Sylva Ogwuemor, told the court that Mr. Anyanwu only signed documents as dutifully required of him but did not receive any share of the stolen money.
In responding to the applications, however, EFCC counsel,Kemi Pinheiro, asserted that the evidence the commission presented before the court was “potent, cogent and very forensic,” adding that the evidence clearly linked the defendants to the alleged crime.
Mr. Pinheiro told Justice Okunnu that counsel to the couple was merely using the “no-case” submission to raise a cloud of doubt. He added that the prosecution had placed enough evidence before the court which the defense must prepare to answer.
In insisting that the Atuches have a case to answer, Mr. Pinheiro said the troubled couple has to explain how the huge amount disappeared from the bank.
“We have also demonstrated before the court that the first defendant was the sole beneficiary of this huge fraud in Bank PHB. The defendant in his statement stated that PW2 and PW3 (Elizabeth Ebi and Desmond Uji respectively) had admitted that they had oral agreement with the bank MD,” the EFCC counsel said.
“The second defendant must explain how N2.8 billion was transferred out of the bank. This was the same defendant who was asked: what was your business? She said she deals in Christmas decorations. Afco Associates will explain better being[the] recipient of stolen N1.9b to N5.7b which was done through abuse of government policy,” Mr. Pinheiro continued.
Justice Okunnu adjourned ruling on the dismissal applications to July 1, 2013.