Here is the story of Emmanuel Nwude who committed the largest fraud in Nigeria by selling a non-existent airport to a Brazilian for $242 million between 1995 and 1998.
Emmanuel Nwude carried out one of the the biggest banking frauds in the world
The wide spread internet fraud commonly known as 419 is a phenomenon Nigeria has sadly come to be associated it. Before internet fraud became a global issue, Nwude had committed one of the biggest scams in the world.
Specifically, his fraud was the third largest banking scam in the world after the Nick Leeson’s trading losses at Barings Bank, and the looting of the Iraqi Central Bank by Qusay Hussein.
How was Emmanuel Nwude able to carry out this jaw-dropping scam and convince Nelson Sakaguchi who was the director of the bank to part with so much money for the purchase of an airport?
Nwude was a former director of Union Bank of Nigeria and this position made him privy to certain sensitive links, information and documents that other employees would not be aware of.
He impersonated the then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Paul Ogwuma, and connected with Sakaguchi informing him of a mouth-watering deal of Nigeria’s plan to build an airport in Abuja.
Nwude, while posing as the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Governor, was able to convince Sakaguchi that he stood of chance of pocketing $10 million commission when the deal passed through. Sakaguchi paid $191 million in cash and the remainder in the form of outstanding interest.
Nwude’s accomplices were Emmanuel Ofolue, Nzeribe Okoli, and Obum Osakwe, along with the husband and wife duo, Christian Ikechukwu Anajemba and Amaka Anajemba.
Christian was later assassinated.
The criminal gang also successfully convinced the director of the Brazilian bank to release the funds.
How the scam happened
It started with a fax in March 1995.
It was from a man called Tafida Williams, who signed off as the Director for Budget and Planning at Nigeria’s Ministry of Aviation. Nigeria, Tafida said, had shifted its administrative capital to Abuja and needed new transport systems. A friend and long-term client of Noroeste had suggested the Brazilian bank would be interested in investing in a new international airport. What Sakaguchi didn’t know was that he was a mark, and although the client was a real person, Tafida was not. Not even that, that there was no such project underway. He didn’t know it then, and wouldn’t for another three years.
Shortly after that fax, Sakaguchi travelled to London. His new friends whisked him from the airport to a hotel in a limousine. At the airport, he met three Nigerian men and one woman. One man gave him a business card introducing himself as the governor of the Nigeria Central Bank, Paul Ogwuma. By the end of the meeting, Sakaguchi was convinced. In fact, he gave them $35, 000 in cash; they would remit $39 million, they promised.
Nelson Sakaguchi was not an extraordinary banker, but he was a hyper-efficient one. For fourteen years, he had meticulously guarded the overseas funds of his employer, the Brazilian bank Banco Noroeste. A loyal and ambitious man, his illustrious career would collapse right before his eyes as his fellow director demanded details about their Cayman Islands operations.
No one had noticed anything off about Sakaguchi’s accounts until a Spanish bank, Santander, tried to buy Noroeste from the Simonsen and Cochrane families in 1998. There was a large amount of money seemingly just sitting in the Cayman’s arm; yet it was two fifths of the entire bank’s value and half of its capital base. That single question begun a bizarre journey into the criminal underworld of Nigerian fraudsters, and just how simple it is to rob a bank.
The birth of the EFCC
In 2002, the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo saw to the establishment of an anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Nwude’s fraud case was one of the first to be investigated and in 2004, all members of the gang were arraigned before an Abuja High Court on 86 counts of “fraudulently seeking advance fees” and 15 counts of bribery related to the case . Although they pleaded not guilty, they were warned not to attempt to bribe court officials as it was suspected that money was going round.
In 2005, Amaka confessed to helping Anajemba and was asked to repay $25.5 million and also sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Nwude attempted to bribe Nuhu Ribadu, the then chairman of the EFCC, with $75,000 cash but the latter refused and Nwude was charged with attempted bribery as well as attempt to kidnap a prosecuting witness.
Following Sakaguchi’s witness, Nwude finally pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five concurrent sentences of five years and was also asked to pay $10 million fine to the federal government.
He was released from prison in 2006 and filed a case to reclaim his assets insisting some of them were acquired before the criminal act. He has so far been able to reclaim $167 million.
A land dispute in the town of Ukpo in the Dunukofia area with Abagana community turned bloody when over 200 men invaded the community killing four policemen and the security guard at the construction site in 2016. The Anambra state government fingered Nwude as the ringleader and he was subsequently arrested and arraigned on 27 charges including murder and terrorism. He is being held at Awka prison as the court case is still on.
While Nwude’s criminal exploit was not the first in the country, it signified the rise in international financial crime and popularise the advanced fee fraud syndrome with Nigeria’s name associated with it.