The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has overruled the judgement of a Lagos State High Court in Ikeja which discharged and acquitted a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, of N25.7bn theft charges.
The appellate court special panel, presided over by Justice Gana Mshelia on Friday, faulted the judgement of Justice Lateef-Lawal Akapo, who freed Atuche of the charges on June 22, last year.
The panel ordered the immediate return of the case file to the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Oluwafunmilayo Atilade, for reassignment to another judge, aside Justices Lawal-Akapo and Lateefa Okunnu, for Atuche’s retrial.
Justice Lawal-Akapo had last year dismissed the charges filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission against Atuche, his wife, Elizabeth and a former Chief Financial Officer of Bank PHB, Ugo Anyanwu, for want of jurisdiction.
The lower court judge had held that he was bound by a previous decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of a former Managing Director of Finbank, Okey Nwosu, where the appellate court pronounced that the high court did not have jurisdiction to entertain stock market related cases.
Justice Lawal-Akapo had upheld the preliminary objection filed by the defence lawyers, including Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) and Sylvia Ogwemoh (SAN), which urged the court to quash the charges for being incompetent.
The judge also rejected an application by the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN), not to dismiss the charges against Atuche and others, but to adjourn the case indefinitely pending the decision of the Supreme Court in Nwosu’s case.
Justice Lawal-Akapo had held, “I find no merit in the prosecution’s application. It is hereby dismissed. The defendants’ application dated November 27, 2013 succeeds and I hereby make the following orders:
“The criminal charge in this suit is hereby struck out and the accused persons namely; Francis Atuche, Elizabeth Atuche and Ugo Anyawu are discharged. The complainant’s notice of plenary objection dated December 3, 2013 is hereby dismissed.”
On Friday, however, Justice Msheila, who read the appellate court’s lead judgement said Justice Lawal-Akapo erred in law by following the appellate court’s decisions in the cases of Nwosu, which had eventually been overruled recently by the Supreme Court.
Justice Msheila further held that the lower court erred when it struck out counts 1 to 24 and 26 in the amended information against the third defendant.
The appellate court upheld the contention by the EFCC that “the learned trial judge erred in law by proceeding to strike out the entirety of the amended information when by the unambiguous and plain provisions of Section 252(3) of the Constitution, no exclusive criminal jurisdiction is conferred on the Federal High Court (at least to the exclusion of the Lagos High Court) on the matters provided for under Section 251(1).”