A prosecution witness, Mr Benedict Omonua, on Tuesday exonerated a former Managing Director of Bank PHB, Francis Atuche, of the N4.2 billion theft charge preferred against him by EFCC.

Omonua, a former Managing Director of PHB Asset Management Ltd, a subsidiary of Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank), was subpoenaed by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to testify at the resumed trial of Atuche.

Atuche and Funmi Ademosun, a former director of the bank, are being prosecuted before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of a Lagos High Court in Ikeja.

The defendants were alleged to have in September 2008 authorised the sale of 241 million units of Afribank Plc shares worth N6.8 billion belonging to Caverton Helicopters Ltd without the company’s approval.

The EFCC had further alleged that N4.2 billion realised from the transaction was transferred to the account of Home Trust Savings and Loans Limited, owned by Ademosun.

However, Omonua, under-cross examination by Atuche’s counsel, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), said the shares sold during the period were 320 million units at a best market price of N8.7 billion.

He said PHB Assets was instructed by Mr Azubuike Okorocha, then head of credit administration of Bank PHB, to dispose of the Afribank shares totalling 820 million units.

“We succeeded in selling 320 million units for N8.7 billion. The transaction was done in bulk.

“There was a buyer for the remaining 500 million units but the cheques of N12.5 billion issued to us bounced and we had to withdraw the sales,” Omonua said.

He explained that the sold shares were in the names of Ojemai Investment, Caverton Helicopters, Atlantic Engineering and Bayenda Ltd.

Omonua said N1.5 billion was paid to Caverton; N2.3 billion to Ojemai and N4.2 billion to Home Trust Investment Ltd.

The witness clarified that the companies had all secured margin loans which were not performing from Bank PHB, which forced the bank to sell the shares.

He said:”The shares that were sold came from various companies and not only Caverton.

“The credit administration department had the prerogative to allocate the funds to these companies based on the units of their shares sold.”

Omonua said in a margin loan deal, the bank could authorise the sale of a customer’s shares without authorisation if there was a drop in share prices or the loans were non-performing.

Three bounced cheques for N12.5 billion, issued by Standard Chartered Securities, were admitted by the court as Exhibits M1 to M4.

The matter was adjourned to 19 October for continuation of trial