Atuche allegedly stole N25.7 billion from Bank PHB.
An Ikeja High Court on Thursday ordered two senior lawyers representing a former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, to pay a fine of N10,000, for “wasting the time of the court.”
Mr. Atuche and his wife, Elizabeth, are standing trial for allegedly stealing N25.7 billion belonging to Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank).
The couple is being prosecuted, alongside a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu .
The trial judge, Lateefat Okunnu, on Thursday penalised two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs)- Anthony Idigbe and Tayo Oyetibo, for failing to appear in court.
She said their absence from the proceedings was a waste of tax payers’ monies and ordered them to each pay a fine of N10,000 into the court’s coffers.
The judge directed the lawyers to file an affidavit of compliance to the order within seven days.
Mr. Okunnu consequently adjourned the matter to October 4 for the defence to call its next witness.
Messrs. Idigbe and Oyetibo had both sent separate letters to the court through another counsel, Abubakar Shamsudeen, stating the reasons for their absence.
Mr. Shamsudeen told the court that Mr. Idigbe was delivering a lecture at a seminar, while Mr. Oyetibo was engaged at another lecture organised by his law firm.
He said both of them were not in court during the proceedings on July 1 when the dates were fixed.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) counsel, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), however, objected to the request for an adjournment.
“It is the law that once a date is fixed by the court, the parties are bound by that date. Aside from the two lead counsels of Idigbe and Oyetibo, the first defendant (Atuche) has other senior advocates in his legal team, including Mr. Rickey Tarfa and Chief Phillip Jimoh-Lasisi,” Mr. Pinheiro said.
He said it was disrespectful to the court that none of them was present to represent Mr. Atuche at the proceedings.
Meanwhile, the court on Thursday granted Mr. Anyanwu leave to travel to the United States to keep a medical appointment.
Giving her ruling on the application filed by Mr. Anyanwu’s counsel, Sylva Ogwemoh, Mr. Okunnu ordered the Chief Registrar of the court to release the defendant’s international passport.
“Leave is granted to the third defendant (Anyanwu) to travel to the United States betweenOctober 7 and October 21 for the purpose of keeping a medical appointment,” she said.
The judge also directed Mr. Anyanwu to return the passport to the chief registrar on the next working day after his return.