By Moji Eniola
There was a tense atmosphere in an Ikeja High Court on Wednesday evening as Francis Atuche, former Managing Director (MD) of Bank PHB, pleaded with Judge Lateefa Okunnu not to send him to jail after his conviction for defrauding. the bank of 25.7 billion naira.
Atuche and Ugo Anyanwu, a former chief financial officer (CFO) of the bank, were both convicted of 22 of the 27 counts of conspiracy and theft brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2011.
The Nigerian News Agency (NAN) reports that Okunnu has found Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth, who was tried alongside the duo, not guilty of two counts of conspiracy and theft brought against her.
Atuche and Anyanwu were sentenced overnight following a very long trial that started at 9:12 am and ended at 9:21 pm.
After sentencing Atuche and Anyanwu at 8:18 p.m., the judge asked if they had a plea to make.
They replied in the affirmative.
Addressing the court, Atuche pleaded not to be sent to jail.
He begged Okunnu to temper justice with mercy.
“All the time that I was managing director of Banque PHB, I gave everything to the bank.
“At no significant point did it occur to me that I would set up a scheme to defraud the bank.
“I plead for mercy, leniency, your kindness, and I plead that by your kindness and generosity, you will not allow me to go to jail.”
“I’m sorry and remorseful,” he said.
Atuche told the court that as a professional banker and chartered accountant, he certainly didn’t want to become a convict.
“I pray that God will place goodness in your heart.
“I plead from the bottom of my heart. I am extremely sorry; today will be a turning point in my life, I’m really sorry, ”he begged.
Atuche’s lawyer, Mr. Paul Nneoma, in his appeal for leniency, described Atuche as a responsible family man who had never been convicted of any crime.
He appealed to the court for Atuche to impose a fine instead of incarceration, in order to preserve his professional career.
Also pleading, Anyanwu told the court that he was the only son of a police officer who died when he was barely a year old.
He said he grew up on the premise of hard work.
“What I have accomplished in banking is by working hard. I have suffered for the past 10 years from this ordeal.
“I’m sorry if I looked arrogant in the witness box during my examination-in-chief.
“I have two children who are barely teenagers. They admire their father and I wonder what kind of impact it will have on them.
“Please temper justice with mercy,” prayed Anyanwu.
Anyanwu’s lawyer, Mr. Silva Ogwemoh (SAN), also pleaded for leniency from his client.
He said that one of Anyanwu’s children had a health problem that needed special attention.
He added that Anyanwu was hypertensive, urging the court to take judicial notice of the COVID-19 pandemic and fine him instead of a custodial sentence.
Reacting to the pleas of the defendants, the EFCC team led by Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), requested a heavy sentence as well as a restitution order against the convicted.
He said the Lagos State government has spent a lot of money and resources to pursue the case over the past 10 years.
“We were brought before the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court on several occasions by the defendants.
“During the trial, they were rude and arrogant. It is not remorse, the third defendant (Anyanwu) decided to maintain his loyalty to his boss (Atuche) against his loyalty to the state.
“We pray that the court imposes the maximum sentence and orders restitution,” he said.
Okunnu eventually sentenced Atuche to six years in prison and Anyanwu to four years in prison
She also issued a restitution order.
The judge said Atuche abused his position of trust by robbing the bank.
“By robbing the bank, they robbed innocent customers of the bank.
“I hereby make an order of restitution against the first and third defendants to repay the amounts set out in counts one through 11, 14 and 24.
“The sums are to be paid to the competent agencies which have recovered the funds on behalf of the bank,” she ordered. (NAA)
MAE / IGO