Court freezes N19.1bn linked to jailed ex-Bank PHB MD, Atuche

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Francis Atuche, former Bank PHB managing director
Francis Atuche, former Bank PHB managing director

A High Court sitting in Ikeja, Lagos has ordered the freezing of the assets and funds belonging to a convicted former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB Plc, Francis Atuche. 

The funds which total N19, 178, 253,050, were ordered to be forfeited by the presiding Judge, Justice Lateefat Okunnu.

Justice Okunnu gave the order on Tuesday, August 31, 2021, following an ex parte application filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on August 17, 2021.

The funds, investigation showed, were domiciled in 24 different banks in Nigeria, including Citi Bank Limited; Ecobank Nigeria Limited; First Bank of Nigeria Plc; First City Monument Bank (FCMB); Globus Bank Limited; Fidelity Bank Plc; Keystone Bank Limited; Lotus Bank Limited and Mainstreet Bank Plc.

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Others are: Polaris Bank Plc; Platinum Mortgage Bank Limited; Providus Bank Limited; Stanbic IBTC Nigeria Limited; Standard Chartered Bank; Sterling Bank Plc; Wema Bank Plc; Zenith Bank Plc; Unity Bank Plc; Titan Trust Bank Limited, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc and others.

Moving the application, counsel to the EFCC, Kemi Pinheiro, SAN, told the court that 15 persons as well as 22 firms were used by Atuche and his co-respondent, Ugo Anyanwu, a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, to launder the funds.

Pinheiro listed the individuals to include Anthony Atuche, Emeka Patrick Atuche, Paul Okobi, Felix Oyiana, Moruf Kazeem Adisa, Olatunji Abiodun, Daniel Enebeli, Aina Olugbenga, Augustine Nwabueze, Omonua Benedict, Oliver King Nduaaron, Dr. Chris Ike Ogbechie, Mr. Murat Bektaslar, Attah Omataikpo Olukemi and Thomas Etuh.

The EFCC counsel further stated that the firms, in which Atuche has either direct or indirect interest are: Aqua Harvest Limited, Hubmart Stores Limited, Hubmart Limited, Sapphire Capital Management Limited, Homeland Real Estate Company Limited, Malechi Foods Limited, Homeland Meridian Partners Limited, Promise Investment Limited and Temple Cottage Hotel Limited.

Others are: Wegas Properties Project Limited, Buckhead Construction Limited, Claremount Management Services Limited, Afco Associates Limited, Platinum Capital Limited, Ghazali Yakubu Investment Limited, The Financial (Services) Company Limited, Venture Resources Limited, Elizabeth-A Company Limited, Signature Partners Limited, Purplepay Technologies Limited, Oakwood Asset Management Limited and Conesto Nigeria Limited.

Justice Okunnu granted the 12 prayers of the applicant and held that “An order is made restraining the 1st defendant (Atuche) whether by himself, or acting through the persons or entities listed or such other persons including but not limited to his family members or agents, from removing, alienating, disposing of, dealing with or diminishing the value of assets, proceeds of economic and financial crimes or otherwise in the name of the 1st defendant.”

The Judge also held that “the assets or funds included those held indirectly by or for Atuche’s benefit, whether solely or jointly held, that are located in Nigeria or worldwide.”

Justice Okunnu further ordered the freezing of any bank account being run and operated by Atuche “personally or jointly, whether in his personal name or otherwise or with the Bank Verification Number (BVN) 22295357230 in any of the respondent banks to the tune of N19, 178, 253, 050 billion, pursuant to the Restitution Order made by this Honourable Court on June 16, 2021.”

Atuche and his privies, including his lawyers, were also barred from presenting to the above listed banks “any mandate or instruction for the withdrawal of any money and/or funds standing to the credit of any of their accounts to the tune of N19, 178, 253. 050 billion.”

Justice Okunnu, who also restrained the banks from honouring any such instruction from Atuche and his privies, further held that “ A mandatory order of injunction is made directing the named respondent banks to file within 48 hours of service of this Order of this Honourable Court on them returns of the Statements of Account of the 1st Defendant (personally or jointly) whether in his personal name or otherwise or with the Bank Verification Number: 22295357230 and the accounts of persons and entities listed in the afore mentioned Schedules A and B maintained with them.

“A further order is made directing service of the Order made herein on persons affected thereby including, in particular, the persons and entities listed in Schedules A and B. by way of advertisement in either The Punch or Thisday or The Guardian newspaper.”

Justice Okunnu had, in June this year, sentenced Atuche to six years imprisonment and Anyanwu four years for stealing and conspiracy to steal to the tune of N25.7bn.

The judge, while sentencing the duo, had ordered them to make a restitution of the sum of N25.7bn to the Federal Government to replace the funds stolen from the public to bail out the bank.