Former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche [Photo credit:].

Francis Atuche, a former managing director of defunct Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank) and Ugo Anyanwu, a former Chief Financial Officer of the financial institution pleaded for leniency while being convicted yesterday in Lagos.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arranged the duo alongside Atuche’s wife on 27 count charge of conspiracy and stealing of N25.7billion via fictitious loans and shares, which the judge, Justice Lateefa Okunnu, who sentenced the former bankers on 22 counts, said belonged to customers of the bank.

Mrs Okunnu however discharged Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth, who was reciting prayers with a rosary during proceedings, of not being guilty of the two counts of conspiracy and stealing brought against her by the anti-graft agency in the legal tussle which began in 2011.

“The first defendant (Atuche) and the third defendant (Anyanwu) are found guilty of counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23 and 24 of the charges contained in the information, and are convicted of conspiracy and stealing,” the judge ruled.

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“On counts 12, 13, 21, 22, and 26, I pronounce the first to third defendants not guilty as the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. On counts 25 and 27, the second defendant (Elizabeth) is found not guilty.

“Nothing was proved beyond reasonable doubt that she silently or knowingly endorsed the perpetuation of fraud; rather, it was the first defendant (Atuche).

“On account of this, the prosecution failed to prove its case of stealing against the second defendant (Elizabeth).

“By stealing from the bank, they (Atuche and Anyanwu) stole from innocent customers of the bank. I hereby make an order of restitution against the first and third defendants to refund the sums stated in counts one to 11, 14, and 24.

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“The sums are to paid to the relevant agencies that recovered the funds on behalf of the bank. The first defendant is hereby sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23, and 24. The third defendant is hereby sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on counts one to 11, 14 to 20, 23 and 24,” she ruled while adding that the sentences would run concurrently.

The judge described the convicts as being rude while being cross-examined in the decade-long trial.

“The first defendant (Atuche) was diversionary and evasive on the witness stand, sometimes confrontational and rude. The third defendant (Anyanwu) was also combative and rude under cross-examination,” she added in the lengthy judgment that began at about 9:12am. and ended at 9:21pm.

After her verdict, the judge asked if the convicts had any plea to make and they answered in the affirmative.

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“All the time I was the MD of Bank PHB, I gave my all to the bank. Never at any material time did it occur to me that I would set up a scheme to defraud the bank,” the disgraced ex-MD of the bank said. “I plead for mercy, leniency, your kindness, and I plead that out of your kindness and generosity, you will not allow me to go to jail.I am sorry and remorseful.”

“What I achieved in the banking industry is by dint of hard work. I have suffered in the last 10 years of this trial. I am sorry if I appeared cocky in the witness box during my examination-in-chief,” Mr Anyanwu pleaded also. “I have two kids who are barely teenagers. They look up to their father, and I wonder what kind of impact this will have on them. Please temper justice with mercy.”

Their prayers were rebuffed by the EFCC team led by Kemi Pinheiro.

“We were taken to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court several times by the defendants. During the trial, they were rude and cocky. That is not remorse,” Pinheiro said. “The third defendant (Anyanwu) decided to hold onto his loyalty to his boss (Atuche) against his loyalty to the state. We pray the court imposes the maximum sentence and orders restitution.”

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