Court to Reopen Atuche’s Seven-year-old Trial on Dec 15

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Justice Lateefat Okunnu of Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja will on December 15 reopened and continue  the trial of a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB, Mr. Francis Atuche, where he was charge alongside his wife for an alleged N25.7billion fraud while he was in charge of the bank.

The Supreme Court led by Justice Dattijo Muhammad had unanimously nullified the order made by the Court of Appeal in September 2016, when the lower court directed the Chief Judge of Lagos State to re-assign Atuche’s case to another judge.

The apex court, after nullifying the Court of Appeal’s directed that Justice Lateefa Okunnu of the Lagos State High Court, before whom the prosecution had closed its case with 18 witnesses (six of whom were subpoenaed) and the defence had called eight witnesses, should continue with the case.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had in 2011, arraigned Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth, and the then Financial Officer of the defunct Bank PHB Plc, Ugo Anyanwu, before Justice Okunnu for allegedly stealing N25.7bn belonging to the bank while Atuche was the bank’s Managing Director.

But the case had been stalled when Atuche’s lawyer Mr. Antony Idigbe (SAN) challenged the trial and since July 2014, the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, ordered the re-assignment of the case to Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo, instead of Justice Okunnu, who had been presiding over it since its inception in 2011.

EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), had argued that the Court of Appeal had while dismissing the defendants’ objection to the charges, “curiously” ordered the Chief Judge of Lagos State to re-assign Atuche and his wife’s trial to a new judge.

The apex court described the Court of Appeal’s order for the re-assignment of the case to a new judge as “perverse.”

Justice Okunnu will continue with the trial of the duo on  December 15.