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Atuche re-arraigned over financial malpractice

20 February 2014, 21:42

Lagos - The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Thursday re-arraigned former Managing Director of defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche and former Managing Director of defunct Spring Bank, Charles Ojo, over financial malpractice.

The re-arraignment followed the transfer of the case from Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, to a new judge, Justice Saliu Saidu.

The case had earlier been before Justice Akinjide Ajakaiye and Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako before it was transferred to Ofili-Ajumogobia.

Murtala-Nyako, who was handling it before Ofili-Ajumogobia, was transferred to the Makurdi Division of the Federal High Court.

Atuche and Ojo are standing trial on an amended 45-count charge bordering on reckless granting of credit facilities, financial impropriety and general banking fraud.

When the case was called on Thursday, the charges were read to the accused again, and they both pleaded not guilty.

Consequently, counsel to Atuche, Anthony Idigbe (SAN), urged the court to allow the accused to continue with the earlier bail granted by the previous trial judge.

He said the first judge, Justice Ajakaiye, had admitted the accused to bail in the sum of N50 million each, with two sureties, each in like sum.

According to Idigbe, the bail terms were subsequently adopted by Justice Murtala-Nyako on February 3, 2012 and then by Justice Ajumogobia on January 16, 2013.

He, therefore, urged the court to exercise its discretion in allowing the accused to continue on the earlier bail.

The Prosecutor, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), did not object to the oral submission for bail.

Justice Saidu, in a short ruling, ordered the accused to continue with the earlier bail granted by the previous judges.

The prosecutor later applied for a date for further mention of the case.

He said in line with the new practice direction of courts, the prosecution was duty bound to ensure speedy disposal of criminal cases.

Citing the provisions of Rule 6 of the practice direction, he argued that all criminal cases handled by the EFCC ought to be dealt with expeditiously.

He, therefore, prayed the court for a date for mention, before which time the defence would have the opportunity of sorting out processes of the prosecution it intended to oppose.

Atuche’s counsel, Idigbe, opposed the submission of the prosecution, saying that the practice direction was not applicable in the situation.

Counsel to Ojo, Osahon Idemudia, however, aligned himself with the submission of the prosecution, saying that the practice direction would enhance speedy disposal of the case.

Justice Saidu, in a short ruling, adjourned the case to April 14 to take arguments from the prosecution and first defence counsel, on the necessity of applying the practice direction in the suit.

The accused are alleged to have granted credit facilities, manipulated shares and committed general banking fraud to the tune of over N125 billion.

The offence is said to contravene the provisions of Section 7(2) (b) of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act, 2004, and Section 15(1) of the Failed Banks (Recovery of debts) and Financial Malpractice in Banks Act, 2004.

It also contravenes the provisions of Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation, 2004 as well as Section 14 (1) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2004.

-  NAN

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