Atuche asks court to dismiss N25.7bn theft charge

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LAGOS — Former Managing Director of defunct  Bank PHB, Francis Atuche and his wife, Elizabeth have asked an Ikeja High Court to dismiss the N25.7 billion theft charge preferred against them, sequel to a recent Court of Appeal decision, which struck out a similar theft charge pending before a Lagos High court in Ikeja against former Managing Director of FinBank, Okey Nwosu.

Atuche, his wife and a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over alleged N25.7 billion theft.

The Court of Appeal, Lagos had in its recent decision struck out charge No. ID/115C/11 Federal Republic of Nigeria vs. Okey Nwosu from the Lagos State High Court on the ground that a similar charge of stealing was pending before the Federal High Court.

The appellate court in its judgment unanimously ruled that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the charges of stealing, relating to the capital market which was an item in the exclusive list of the Federal Legislature.

The court also held that the state High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the charges which were within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.

Following the appellate court’s decision, the Atuches in a motion on notice dated November 29, 2013 and brought pursuant to Sections 6 (6), 230-248, 270-274 and 287(2) of the Constitution submitted that the subject matter of the charge against them revolved around the issue of acquisition of shares as disclosed in all the 27-count charge.

The applicants also argued that the issue of shares was item 12 on the Exclusive Legislative list of the 1999 Constitution and same exclusive to the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court by virtue of Section 251(1) of the 1999 Constitution and section 7 (3) of the Federal High Court Act, 2004 Cap F12.

The Atuches in the motion filed by their counsel, Chief Anthony Idigbe SAN and supported with a four-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Martins Nwankwo, argued that the Lagos High Court did not have the power and jurisdiction to review and make judicial pronouncements on most of the exhibits tendered so far; the exhibits being subject of item12 of the Exclusive legislative list.

Further hearing on the matter has been adjourned till December 16.

They further contended that the court cannot reach a fair, just and whole decision at the end of the trial without considering the Exhibits bordering on capital market issues upon which the court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate by virtue of the 1999 constitution.

But the EFCC in its notice of preliminary objection to the motion, filed through its counsel, Mr. Kemi Pinheiro, SAN, urged the court to dismiss the applicants’ motion for being scandalous, frivolous and vexatious.

In the motion filed on December 3, 2013, the EFCC also contended that the plaintiffs were gambling with the process of the court contrary to the supreme court decision in Abubakar v. Yar’adua? (2008) 4 NWLR (Pt.1120).

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