An Ikeja Division of the Lagos State High Court has ordered the freezing of assets and funds amounting to N19,178,253,050 allegedly kept in 24 banks by Francis Atuche, the convicted former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB.
The banks include Access Bank Plc, Citi Bank Ltd, Ecobank Nigeria Ltd, Fidelity Bank Nigeria Plc, First Bank Of Nigeria Plc, First City Monument Bank and Globus Bank Ltd.
Others include Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Ltd, Keystone Bank Ltd, Lotus Bank Ltd, Mainstreet Bank Plc, Polaris Bank Plc, Platinum Mortgage Bank Ltd, Providus Bank Ltd and Stanbic IBTC Nigeria Ltd.
The rest are Standard Chartered Bank, Sterling Bank Plc, Titan Trust Bank Ltd, Union Bank Of Nigeria Plc, United Bank For Africa Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc and Zenith Bank Plc.
Lateefat Okunnu, the judge who convicted the banker in June, made the order sequel to an August 17 application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Charge No. ID/1549/2011 between the Federal Government on the one hand and Mr Atuche and Ugo Anyanwu as first and defendants.
Mr Anyanwu, a former chief financial officer of Bank PHB, is serving time in jail following his conviction and sentencing to six years imprisonment last June 16 for N25.7billion fraud alongside Mr Atuche.
Mrs Okunnu, while sentencing the duo, had ordered that they should make a restitution of N25.7 billion to the Federal Government to replace the funds stolen from the public to bail out the bank.
The judge granted the agency’s 12 prayers pursuant to sections 6(d), 20, 24, 26(1), 30 and 34(1) of the EFCC Act and sections 290, 294 and 297 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015, filed by prosecution counsel led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Kemi Pinheiro.
Mrs Okunnu held: “An order is made restraining the 1st Defendant (Atuche) whether by himself, or acting through the persons or entities listed or such other persons including but not limited to his family members or agents, from removing, alienating, disposing of, dealing with or diminishing the value of assets, proceeds of economic and financial crimes or otherwise in the name of the 1st Defendant…”
She noted that the assets or funds included those held indirectly by or for Mr Atuche’s benefit, whether solely or jointly held, that is located in Nigeria or worldwide.
The judge further froze any bank account being run and operated by Mr Atuche “personally or jointly, whether in his personal name or otherwise or with the Bank Verification Number: 22295357230 in any of the respondent banks to the tune of N19,178,253,050.00 only, pursuant to the Restitution Order made by this Honourable Court on the 16 day of June 2021.”
She also barred Mr Atuche and his privies – including his lawyers – from presenting to the Respondent Banks any mandate or instruction for the withdrawal of any money and/or funds standing to the credit of any of their accounts to the tune of N19, 178, 253. 050.
In another order, she restrained the banks from honouring any such instruction from Mr Atuche and his privies.
The judge added: “A mandatory order of injunction is made directing the named respondent banks to file within 48 hours of service of this Order of this Honourable Court on them returns of the Statements of Account of the 1st Defendant (personally or jointly) whether in his personal name or otherwise or with the Bank Verification Number: 22295357230 and the accounts of persons and entities listed in the afore mentioned Schedules A and B maintained with them…
“A further order is made directing service of the Order made herein on persons affected thereby including in particular, the persons and entities listed in Schedules A and B. by way of advertisement in either The Punch or Thisday or The Guardian newspaper.
According to the EFCC, 15 persons were used as front by Mr Atuche to launder the funds.
They are: Anthony Atuche, Emeka Patrick Atuche, Paul Okobi, Felix Oyiana, Moruf Kazeem Adisa, Olatunji Abiodun, Daniel Enebeli, Aina Olugbenga, Augustine Nwabueze, Omonua Benedict, Oliver King Nduaaron, Dr. Chris Ike Ogbechie, Mr. Murat Bektaslar, Attah Omataikpo Olukemi and Thomas Etuh.
The 22 firms in which Atuche has interest in directly or indirectly, according to the EFCC, are Aqua Harvest Ltd, Hubmart Stores Limited, Hubmart Limited, Sapphire Capital Management Limited, Homeland Real Estate Company Limited, Malechi Foods Limited, Homeland Meridian Partners Limited, Promise Investment Limited, Temple Cottage Hotel Limited, Wegas Properties Project Limited, Buckhead Construction Limited, Claremount Management Services Limited, Afco Associates Limited, Platinum Capital Limited, Ghazali Yakubu Investment Limited, The Financial (Services) Company Limited, Venture Resources Limited, Elizabeth-A Company Limited, Signature Partners Limited, Purplepay Technologies Limited, Oakwood Asset Management Limited And Conesto Nigeria Limited.