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I Won’t Steal Customers’ Money Again, Jailed Bank PHB ex-MD Atuche Begs

First Bank Nigeria

Disgraced and jailed ex-MD of the defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, begs the Ikeja High Court for leniency, saying he will not steal customers’ money again.

“I pray that God will place in your heart to be kind. I plead from the bottom of my heart. I’m extremely sorry. Today will be a turning point in my life. I’m very sorry,” he begged.

There was a tense atmosphere in an Ikeja High Court on Wednesday night as Francis Atuche, a former Managing Director (MD) of Bank PHB, begged Justice Lateefa Okunnu not to send him to prison following his conviction for defrauding the bank of N25.7 billion.

Messrs Atuche and Ugo Anyanwu, a former chief financial officer of the bank, were found guilty of 22 of the 27 counts of conspiracy and stealing charges proffered against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2011.

Mrs Okunnu found Mr Atuche’s wife, Elizabeth, who faced trial alongside the duo, not guilty of two counts of conspiracy and stealing brought against her.

The court convicted Messrs Atuche and Anyanwu at nighttime following a lengthy judgment that began at 9:12 a.m. and ended at 9:21 p.m.

After convicting the duo at 8:18 p.m., the judge asked if they had any plea to make. They answered in the affirmative.

Addressing the court, Mr Atuche begged not to be sent to jail. He prayed Mrs Okunnu to temper justice with mercy.

“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.

“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,” he said.

Mr Atuche told the court that he did not want to become a convict as a professional banker and chartered accountant.

Pleading also, Mr Anyanwu told the court that he was the only son of a police officer who died when he was barely a year old.

He added that he grew up on the premise of hard work.

“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.

“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,” Mr Anyanwu prayed.

Reacting to the defendants’ pleas, the EFCC team led by Kemi Pinheiro requested stiff sentences and an order of restitution against the convicts.

He said, “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. 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.”

Mrs Okunnu stated, “By stealing from the bank, they 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. The funds are to be paid to the relevant agencies that recovered the funds on behalf of the bank.”

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