Atuche seeks dismissal of N25.7bn theft charge for lack of jurisdiction

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A former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, on Tuesday asked an Ikeja High Court to dismiss the N25.7 billion theft charge preferred against him.  Atuche and his wife, Elizabeth, are standing trial before Justice Lateefat Okunnu.

They are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu.

Atuche’s application was premised on a judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, on Nov. 21, where the appellate court had, in the judgment, struck out a theft charge preferred against a former Managing Director of Finbank Plc, Okey Nwosu and some others.

The Court of Appeal held in Nwosu’s case that the Lagos High Court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the charge because it emanated from capital market transactions.

The appellate court held that such a capital market-based case should be handled by the Federal High Court.

Atuche’s Counsel, Anthony Idigbe (SAN), argued in the application dated Nov. 27 that Atuche’s case was similar to Nwosu’s. “Your lordship will see clearly that the pith and substance of this charge is alleged fraudulent conversion of sums of monies into shares.

“This court cannot reach a fair, just and whole decision at the end of trial without considering exhibits bordering on capital market issues on which it lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate.

“In view of all the foregoing, we urge your lordship to decline jurisdiction at this stage in order not to further engage in exercise in futility.”

However, the EFCC Counsel, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), in preliminary objection, urged the court to strike out the application for “being frivolous and vexatious”.

Pinheiro said that the Court of Appeal’s decision in Nwosu’s case was inapplicable to Atuche’s case.

The court has adjourned the case till Dec.16 for further hearing.

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