Ex-Bank PHB MD, Atuche denies stealing Caverton Helicopter's N4.2b

A former Managing Director of Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank), Francis Atuche, on Wednesday denied stealing N4.2 billion from Caverton Helicopters Ltd.

Mr. Atuche made this known through his lawyer, Anthony Idigbe (SAN), at an Ikeja High Court in Lagos, presided over by Justice Lateefat Okunnu.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mr. Atuche and Funmi Ademosun, a former director of the bank, were charged to court for allegedly stealing the money.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had alleged that the two accused persons conspired to steal N4.2 billion from Caverton Helicopters in September 2009.

An EFCC operative, Ngunah Kakwagh, on Monday claimed that Mr. Atuche sold 241 million units of Afribank shares belonging to Caverton Helicopters, without authorisation from the owners.

Miss Kakwagh alleged that the shares worth N6.9 billion, were transferred into the account of Home Trust Savings and Loans Ltd., owned by Ms. Ademosun.

However, Mr. Atuche’s attorney, while cross-examining the witness, faulted her claim that the accused fraudulently converted the proceeds of the said shares.

Mr. Idigbe claimed Caverton Helicopters was granted a margin loan facility of N2.7 billion by Bank PHB in August 2006 to purchase shares from the capital market.

According to him, the N4.2 billion was the proceeds realised after the shares were sold and the deduction of the debt of N2.7 billion owed the bank.

“Margin loans are loans given by banks to customers to buy shares in the capital market.

“Both the bank and the customer contribute financially and the proceeds of these shares– after sales– are shared based on the agreement made in the offer letter,” he said.

According to him, the Chairman of Caverton Helicopters, A.M. Makanjuola, had on August 14, 2006, entered an agreement with the bank on the said transaction.

Mr. Idigbe said the terms of the offer document clearly stated that the title of the shares would be in the name of Bank PHB.

“So what happened was that Caverton Helicopters was indebted to the bank to the tune of N2.7 billion and when the bank sold the shares, it had no need to consult the company because that is the standard procedure,” he said.

The counsel said the failure of the EFCC to tender the offer document or the share certificates before the court showed that they had no case against the accused persons.

“The charge before this court is that the accused persons stole N4.2 billion by fraudulently converting the shares to their personal use.

“But it shows in the offer document that Bank PHB owned the shares, so how can you steal something that belongs to you,” the lawyer asked.

He said the EFCC failed to do a thorough investigation, adding that the prosecution failed to tender Mr. Makanjuola’s statement which was also crucial to the case.

However, the witness debunked the claim that the EFCC did not do a proper investigation.

She said the offer document given to the EFCC by Bank PHB did not state the bank as the title holders of the shares.

Miss Kakwagh, however, failed to present the said document before the court, claiming that it was in the custody of the EFCC.

The matter was adjourned to June 20 for continuation of trial.


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