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Fraud: Atuche, Ojo ‘ve case to answer, says Court

By Innocent Anaba
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Tuesday, refused the applications by former managing directors of BankPHB, Mr. Francis Atuche and that of Spring Bank Plc, Mr. Charles Ojo, praying the court to quash the corruption charges preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Trial judge in the matter, Justice Akinjide Ajakaiye, in his ruling on the separate applications brought by the former bank chiefs, asking the court to dismiss the charges against them on the ground that the allegations are incompetent, frivolous and defective, held that no ground exist for the quashing of the charges.

The court afterwards ordered the accused persons to take their plea.

On whether there is sufficient ground for the trial of the accused person on the charge preferred against them, the court cited Section 33 of the Federal High Court Rules which states that criminal trial shall be conducted according to the Criminal Procedure Rule, that is, that all trial at the Federal High Court shall be by summary trial and not through proof of evidence.

The judge adjourned the case till June 7, for commencement of trial.

Further the court said, “as against the trial by information where there is need for proof of evidence in a summary case the proof of evidence is not required, so I agreed with the prosecution that all the proof of evidence needed to show is possibility and not certainty.

“Certainty comes in after evidence has been adduced, I am satisfied that the proof of evidence filed consist of high profile document related to the charge and the statement of the accused, also the statement of witness criminate the accused person”.

On allegation by the accused persons that both the EFCC and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, were issuing negative publications against them, the court held that since the publications took placed outside the court and since the trial will be conducted by proof of evidence and not media report then the court can not dismiss the case based on the publications.

The court, however, warned that as much as there is right of expression, such rights must be exercised responsibly, adding that the report of court proceedings must also be done accurately.

The court subsequently dismissed their applications and called on the accused person to take their plea.

The accused persons pleaded not guilty to all the counts, after it was read to them and the judge adjourned the case till June 7, for commencement of trial.

It will be recalled that the accused persons were earlier arraigned on a 26-count charge ranging from criminal grant of loans abuse of office and granting loan beyond the limit laid down by the regulations of the bank.

The charge against them read, “that you Atuche whilst being the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Bank PHB Plc, Ojo being the Executive Director and others now at large on or about September 1, 2006, within the jurisdiction of this court, conspired to commit a felony, to wit; reckless granting of credit facility in the total sum of N5 billion to Platinum Capital Limited, a company both of you had/have interest in without adequate security contrary to accepted banking practice and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”

“That you Atuche whilst being the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Bank PHB Plc, Ojo whilst being the Executive Director and others now at large in or about the month of July, 2007, within the jurisdiction of this court conspired to commit a felony, to wit; reckless granting of credit facility in the total sum of N7 billion to Platinum Capital Limited, a company both of you had/have interest in without adequate security contrary to accepted banking practice and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”


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