Lagos - The trial of a former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, was on Tuesday stalled again, following the absence of a prosecution witness, Mr Bolaji Ogunsola, who alleged threat to his life.
Atuche is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before Justice Lateefat Okunnu of a Lagos High Court in Ikeja.
The former bank chief is being prosecuted with his wife, Elizabeth and a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu, for alleged stealing.
The commission alleged that they stole over N25.7 billion belonging to Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank) between November 2007 and April 2008.
Ogunsola, a former Managing Director of Mortgages PHB Ltd, a subsidiary of Bank PHB, had on Sept. 26 testified against the defendants, but had since refused to attend subsequent proceedings.
He had alleged that Atuche ordered the transfer of some funds from the accounts of some of his companies domiciled with Mortgages PHB, to two churches in Delta State.
However, during Tuesday's proceedings, EFCC counsel, Mr Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), told the court that the life of the witness was under threat.
Pinheiro said Ogunsola in an e-mail sent to the EFCC, had alleged that his life and that of his children were being threatened as a result of his testimony before the court.
He said:"The witness alleges that persons of Delta extraction threatened his life and that they will deal with him the way they deal with people in Delta.
"That they told him that he has eaten with lions and that the lions will devour him.
"They went as far as saying that they knew his children and where to get them".
Pinheiro, therefore, asked the court for an adjournment to enable the EFCC convince and assure the witness of his safety, so that the trial could go on.
"We are concerned about the treat to the life of the witness and his state of mind to come and give evidence before this court", he said.
In his response, counsel to the Atuches, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), described the allegation as a joke and a ploy by the prosecution to delay Ogunsola's cross-examination.
Idigbe noted that the witness was absent in court on Oct.4 for the same reasons, stressing that the EFCC ought to have provided adequate security for him if the threat was real.
He said:"The story is inconsistent and we are ready for cross-examination.
"If there was indeed a threat to his life, why was security not provided so that he can come before the court to continue his testimony?
"We are, therefore, asking the court to make a specific order that security should be provided for the witness".
Counsel to Anyanwu, Mr Sylva Ogwuemoh, also aligned himself with Idigbe's submissions.
"Our hands are clean. We are asking the court to intervene by making an order that the witness comes to court so that we can continue with this matter", Ogwuemoh said.
However, the judge declined making any order concerning the threat and adjourned the matter to Nov.19 for continuation of trial.