Bank PHB Chiefs slammed with a 20-Count Charge

Francis Atuche and Charles Ojo, The two executive directors of Bank PHB sacked by the CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi were this morning arraigned before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on a 20-count charge of granting unsecured N54 billion credit facilities to eight companies.

In the criminal charges filed against the two bank executives by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), prosecuting counsel, M.S. Hassan, it was alleged that Francis Atuche as Managing Director and Chief Executive of Bank PHB and Charles Ojo while he was the Executive Director of Bank PHB Plc, granted credit facilities in the sum of N12 billion  to Assets Management Limited and Platinum Capital Limited, with no security in which companies they are directors.

It was further alleged they granted N54 billion credit facilities to the following companies without collateral: Petrosan Oil and Gas Limited, Future View Financial Services Limited, Extra Oil Limited, Tradgek, Springboard Trust and Investment Nigeria Limited,  Sonadek Security Limited, Falcon Security Limited, Project Alpha United and Insurance PHB Limited.Francis Atuche in the 9th, 15th and 17th charge was alleged to have acquired capital shares of Global Bank, Liberia, Project Alpha United and Insurance PHB Limited without prior approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Atuche was also accused of granting credit facilities above his approved limit as laid down by the regulations of Bank PHB Plc.The two accused persons pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

The sacked Managing Directors of BankPHB and Spring Bank Plc were ordered to remain in the Lagos detention facility of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Justice Akinjide Ajakaiye of the Federal High Court, Lagos made the order shortly after Francis Atuche and Charles Enaholo Ojo were arraigned before him on a 26-count charge filed by the commission. Atuche and Ojo have been detained by the EFCC since October 16.

EFCC accused them of granting loans without securities to companies in which they have interest, granting loans with inadequate securities, exceeding their approval limits and granting loans without the approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

They were also alleged to have acquired interests in other companies without CBN’s prior approval and failed to take reasonable steps in ensuring the correctness of their bank’s monthly return to the CBN. About N8billion was said to have been involved in their alleged offences.

Atuche and Ojo pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Ojo’s name appeared only in counts one and two, where he was accused of working with Atuche to grant unsecured loans of N12billion to companies in which they are directors-PHB Asset Management Limited and Platinum Security Ltd – in June, while he was executive director of Bank PHB.

The choice of their detention venue was informed by their claim that they were already used to the EFCC detention facility and should be returned there.

The former Bank PHB boss was in counts three, four, five, six, seven and eight alleged to have “recklessly granted credit facility” of N21.39b “without adequate security, contrary to the accepted practice”.

He was alleged to have, acting with some others now at large, granted unsecured loans of N4b to Futureview Financial Services Ltd on November 16, 2007; N4b to Petosan Oil and Gas Ltd. on November 1, 2007; N4b to Extra Oil Ltd. in July, this year; N3.5b to Tradjek Nig. Ltd in November 2007; N3.58b to Springboard Trust and Investment Ltd. on June 30, and N2.31b to Sonac Securities Ltd. also on June 30.

In counts nine, 15, 16 and 17, Atuche was accused of acquiring interests in some companies, both local and international, without CBN approval.

He was said to have acquired N2.4b share capital of the Global Bank of Liberia; N596m in Project Alpha, United Kingdom; N134.08m in PHB Capital Trust Ltd; N650m in Insurance PHB.

In counts 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 26, Atuche was accused of approving loans beyond his “approval limit as laid down by the regulations of BankPHB Plc”.

He was said to have approved N7b to Platinum Securities in June; N4b to Petosan Oil and Gas in November 2007; N4b to Futureview Financial Services, also in November 2007; N4b to Extra Oil Ltd in last June and N5.5b to Tradjek Nig. Ltd.

Counts 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 accused Atuche of granting loans to companies without the “prior approval in writing of the CBN”.

He was alleged to have given a N61.15 million loan without CBN’s prior approval in writing, to “staff of BankPHB against the shares of the bank; N14.79b to Falcon Securities Ltd; N16.84b to PHB Asset Magt. Ltd and N9.5b to Futureview Securities.

In count 25, Atuche was accused of failing to “take reasonable steps to ensure the correctness of June 2009 Bank PHB monthly bank return to CBN”.

Their alleged offences, according to the charge, are contrary to and punishable under sections 15 (1) (a) and (b) and 16 (1) (a) of the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act, Cap F2 Laws of the Federation; Sections 20 (1)(b), 20 (7), 21 (2), 21 (4) and 50 of the Banks and Other Finanacial Institutions Act Cap B3, Laws of Nigeria.

Shortly after their pleas were taken, the lead prosecution lawyer, Mr. Muslim Hassan, urged the court to adjourn to a later date for the commencement of trial and requested that the accused be remanded in prison.

Defence lawyer Mr. Anthony Idigbe (SAN), leading Dr. Nnamdi Dimgba and others for Atuche, told the court that a bail application had been filed by his client.

His request that the application be heard by the court was refused on the ground that Hassan needed time to respond.

Idigbe urged the court to remand his client in EFCC’s custody. Mr. Mike Ozekhome, who represented Ojo, made a similar request because the court had indicated its unwillingness to hear their bail applications.

Following Hassan’s agreement that the accused be kept in the prosecuting agency’s custody, Justice Ajakaiye directed that they be remanded in EFCC and adjourned the matter till next Tuesday 3 November for the hearing of the bail applications.