An Ikeja High Court on Wednesday convicted and jailed a former Managing Director (MD) of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, for defrauding the bank of over N25.7 billion.
Since 2011, Atuche and a former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu, have been facing a 27-counts charge of conspiracy and stealing levelled against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In a lengthy judgment delivered over 12 hours on Wednesday, Justice Lateefa Okunnu who convicted both of them of 22 of the 27-count charge sent them to prison for the crime despite their strident cry for them to be spared.
However, Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth, who was also tried trial along with them, was discharged and acquitted of the two counts charge of conspiracy and stealing filed against her by the anti-graft agency.
Following the conviction, Atuche in an emotional plea asked the Judge to tamper justice with mercy and not send him to prison for the crime.
“All the time I was the MD of Bank PHB, I gave my all to the bank. Never at any material time did it occur to me that I would set up a scheme to defraud the bank.
“I plead for mercy, leniency, your kindness. As a professional banker and chartered accountant, I do not want to become a convict. I plead that out of your kindness and generosity, you will not allow me to go to jail. Please, I am sorry and remorseful.
“I pray that God will place in your heart to be kind. I plead from the bottom of my heart. I’m extremely sorry. Today will be a turning point in my life. I’m very sorry,” he pleaded with the court.
Atuche’s counsel, Paul Nneoma, in his plea for mercy on behalf of his client, described Atuche as “a responsible family man who had never been convicted of any crime.” He urged the court to convert Atuche’s imprisonment term to a fine to preserve his professional career.
Also, Anyanwu in his plea for leniency told the court he was the only son of a police officer, who died when he was barely a year old. Since then, he said then he said he has always grown up on the premise of hard work.
“What I achieved in the banking industry is by dint of hard work. I have suffered in the last 10 years of this trial. I am sorry if I was appearing cocky in the witness box during my examination-in-chief.
“And I have two kids who are barely teenagers. They look up to their father and I wonder what kind of impact this will have on them. Please temper justice with mercy,” Anyanwu pleaded.
In reiterating his plea, Anyanwu’s counsel, Silva Ogwemoh, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), joined in begged for mercy for his client, particularly for the sake of one of his children with a medical condition requiring special attention by the parents.
Besides, he urged the court to take judicial notice of the COVID-19 pandemic and Anyanwu’s hypertensive condition and impose a fine on him rather than imprisonment
In his reaction, the EFCC prosecution team led by Kemi Pinheiro (SAN) asked the court to impose stiff penalties on the accused to serve as a deterrent.
“We pray the court imposes the maximum sentence and orders restitution,” Pinheiro said.
In her ruling, Okunnu sentenced Atuche to six years’ imprisonment against Anyanwu’s four, apart from an order for restitution for abusing their position of trust by stealing from the bank.
“By stealing from the bank, you 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, to be paid to the relevant agencies that recovered the funds on behalf of the bank,” the judge ruled.
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