Court freezes N19.1bn linked to ex-Bank PHB MD Atuche in 24 banks

Following the conviction of Francis Atuche, former managing director of the defunct Bank PHB, a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja has ordered the freezing of his assets and funds totalling about N19billion allegedly kept in 24 banks.

Justice Lateefat Okunnu made the order sequel to an August 17 application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) between the Federal Government on the one hand and Atuche and Ugo Anyanwu as first and defendants.

In June 2021, the judge had sentenced Atuche to a six-year jail term for the offence of stealing the sum of N25.7bn belonging to the bank.

Anyanwu, who served as his chief financial officer at the bank, was also sentenced alongside Atuche to a jail term of four years.

Justice Okunnu, while sentencing the duo, ordered that they should make a restitution of the N25.7b to the Federal Government to replace the funds stolen from the public to bail out the bank.

EFCC’s counsel Kemi Pinheiro moved the ex-parte application to freeze the funds pursuant to sections 6(d), 20, 24, 26(1), 30 and 34(1) of the EFCC Act and sections 290, 294 and 297 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015.

In granting his prayers, Justice Okunnu 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 further froze 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: 22295357230 in any of the respondent banks to the tune of N19,178,253,050.00 only, pursuant to the Restitution Order made by this Honourable Court on the 16 day of June 2021.”

She barred Atuche and his privies – including his lawyers – from presenting to the respondent 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.

In another order, she restrained the banks from honouring any such instruction from Atuche and his privies.

The EFCC said Atuche used 15 persons as front to launder the funds.

They are 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.