“I am not a thief,” Atuche tells court

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A former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, on Wednesday denied the N25.7 billion theft charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Atuche, who was testifying before Justice Lateefat Okunnu of an Ikeja High Court at his trial, told the court that it was absurd to label him a thief.

Atuche and his wife, Elizabeth, are standing trial for allegedly stealing N25.7 billion belonging to Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank).

They were charged to court by the EFCC alongside a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu.

Led in evidence by his counsel, Mr Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, the former bank chief said he could not engage in theft because he was a devout Catholic.

“I am a Catholic. I cannot be a thief. I was baptised in the church and before I left primary school, I have started receiving Holy Communion which I do every day.

“I cannot receive Holy Communion when I am not in the state of grace. I cannot be a thief because God has been gracious to me,’’ he said.

Atuche said he had never stolen anything in his life, adding that, this was attested to by the excellent testimonial issued to him by the various schools he attended.

He told the court that he joined United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, in Ibadan as a clerk on April 4,1982 and was promoted to the post of supervisor only after nine months.

However, his testimony was cut short as the court elected to adjourn further hearing in the case till July 7.

Earlier, a businessman, Chief Christian Imoka, also testified on behalf of the defendants in respect of the procedure used for granting of loans by the bank.

Imoka, the Managing Director of Chris Edik International Ltd and Chris Edik Pharmaceuticals Ltd, said he was a customer of Bank PHB during the tenure of Atuche.

The witness admitted that he was granted several credit facilities by the bank in a faster process than other banks where he indicated the same interest.

He said often times, he would regularise the transaction after the money had been disbursed, especially when he was outside the country.

Imoka told the court that following his close relationship with the bank, he later purchased some of its shares for N1.3 billion through a private placement.

Under cross-examination by the EFCC counsel, Mr Kemi Pinheiro, SAN, Imoka denied being indebted to Bank PHB’s predecessor, Keystone Bank, to the tune of N2.1 billion.

“I am owing the bank less than N100 million and I am paying as at when due because it is a long term loan,’’ Imoka said.

He also denied being the owner of Platinum Oil and Gas Ltd which Pinheiro claimed was used by Atuche to carry out some shady deals.

The witness further told the court that he joined several other shareholders to institute a suit against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for nationalising Bank PHB.

However, Pinheieo, insisted that Imoka’s internet profile showed that he was the owner of Platinum Oil and Gas Ltd.

The EFCC counsel said the witness only came to testify because he was aggrieved with the CBN and Keystone Bank for taking over the bank. (NAN)

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