An Ikeja High Court on Monday dismissed an application by a former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, asking it to quash a theft charge preferred against him.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Atuche was charged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and arraigned on May 5, 2011 alongside an associate, Lekan Kasali.
They were arraigned on a two-count charge bordering on conspiracy and stealing, before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo. The EFCC alleged that they stole over N4.2 billion belonging to the bank between Nov. 2007 and April 2008, while Atuche was the Chief Executive Officer.Mr. Atuche, however, filed an application on Oct.7, 2011, through his lawyer, Deji Sasegbon, asking the court to quash the charge against him. He argued that the charge amounted to double jeopardy and abuse of court process since he was facing similar charges at the Federal High Court, Lagos and at another Ikeja High Court. The former bank chief had also challenged the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the matter, claiming that the EFCC had no right to try him under the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Lagos State. In his ruling, Mr. Onigbanjo said that there was no merit in the application and dismissed it in its entirety. He held that the case before him was not the similar to the ones Mr. Atuche was facing at the Federal High Court and a sister court in Ikeja. The judge said that Mr. Atuche’s alleged offences at the Federal High Court included money laundering, fraud and contravening of other banking laws.Mr. Onigbanjo said: “The charge before this court is that of stealing. From the foregoing, it is clear to me that the offences the applicant allegedly committed are not the same. “The charge did not emanate from the same set of transactions or the same set of persons, even though they allegedly took place during the same period”. The judge held that Atuche’s right to fair hearing had not been prejudiced, adding that there was no evidence that he was denied access to his lawyers. On whether EFCC could prosecute a person under a state law, he held that the agency could do so even without a fiat from the State Attorney-General. According to him, Section 211 (1) of the Constitution allowed for circumstances in which any other body other than the Attorney-General, could institute criminal proceedings against a person.Mr. Onigbanjo said that the EFCC Act empowered it to prosecute criminal matters under a state law, noting that the Act establishing the EFCC and the Constitution superceded any state law. NAN reports that the matter was adjourned to May 24 for trial.