N10b found in accounts linked to ex-bank chief

Two accounts linked to the detained former Bank PHB Managing Director Mr. Francis Atuche were blocked yesterday by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The accounts contain N10billion, EFCC sources said. Atuche is being held for alleged insider abuse and gross mismanagement.

He is being interrogated.

EFCC investigators stumbled on the two “strange accounts”, which were said to belong to “two subsidiaries” of Bank PHB – Platinum Capital Limited and Bank PHB Assets Management Limited.

But the EFCC is said to believe that the two companies are not subsidiaries of Bank PHB.

An EFCC source said: “Today, we placed a ‘no-debit note’ on two accounts in Bank PHB. That means we blocked the two accounts linked to Atuche.

“The accounts belong to two companies (Platinum Capital Limited and Bank PHB Assets Management Limited) paraded and operated as subsidiaries of Bank PHB.

“But we discovered that the two companies were actually owned by Atuche.

Atuche allegedly used his position as the MD of the bank to give N14billion to these two companies to operate. The two accounts are domiciled in Bank PHB.

The source added: “Curiously, over 20 members of the staff of the two companies are on the payroll of Bank PHB.

“As at the time of the discovery, about N10billion was still in the two accounts.

“We were able to uncover that the funds were hurriedly returned when the CBN began its audit.

“Atuche and his cronies made last-minute efforts to shore up the accounts to save their image.”

EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi said: “I have an idea of what you are talking about; I don’t have the details yet because investigation is still ongoing.”

The EFCC is believed to have made “substantial progress” on how Spring Bank was acquired by Bank PHB under Atuche.

Another source said: “It was a dirty game; we are closing in on other suspects.”

In the 2005 consolidation, six banks merged to form Spring Bank. They are: Trans-International, Guardian Express, Citizens, ACB International, Fountain Trust and Omega.

But barely a year into consolidation, Spring Bank ran into trouble over post-merger adjustment. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) moved in, appointing an Interim Management Board headed by Suleiman Ndanusa.

In November 2008, Bank PHB bid for about 3bilion shares of Spring Bank for about N21billion. The bid resulted in the controversial acquisition of Spring Bank by Bank PHB on December 18, last year.

The acquisition, however, attracted many petitions to President Umaru Yar’Adua and a web of suits in court.

Yar’Adua mandated the Ministry of Finance to investigate the crisis and co-ordinate opinions of regulatory authorities on the acquisition. The ministry’s team was led by the Minister of State, Mr. Remi Babalola.

Babalola, in a March 2008 report to Yar’Adua, described the acquisition of Spring Bank as illegal. Besides, he said “the shares of Spring Bank were under full suspension prior to the purported sale”.

The Nation