Possibly the biggest – and cleverest – scam of history has taken place.
Do you think you’ve heard great scam stories? Maybe Charles Ponzi who made $250,000 a day and not giving any of it back to investors as it was 1918 and people were stupid?
Or perhaps Gregor MacGregor, who amassed great fortune and adulation in the early 1800s when he convinced hundreds upon hundreds of people he was the prince of a fictional country called Poyois?
These are nothing compared to what Emmanuel Nwude managed to do in Nigeria. He managed to sell an imaginary airport to a bank for $242 million between 1995 and 1998!
Nwude was a former director of Union Bank of Nigeria, a position which gave him close access to important links, information, and documents.
Using this information, he impersonated Paul Ogwuma, then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and connected with bank director Nelson Sakaguchi pitching him a staggering chance to get in on the country’s ‘plan to build an airport in Abuja’.
The fake Paul Ogwuma told Sakaguchi that he was on the cusp of pocketing $10 million commission. Sakaguchi amazingly then paid $191 million in cash and the remainder by way of outstanding interest.
Alongside Nwude were Emmanuel Ofolue, Nzeribe Okoli, and Obum Osakwe, along with husband and wife, Christian Ikechukwu Anajemba and Amaka Anajemba. The group then went on to convince the director of the Brazilian bank to part with the money.
In 1997, the Spanish Banco Santander wanted to take over the Banco Noroeste and a joint board meeting was held in December of that year. Heads of the Spanish bank noted that half of the Brazilian bank’s capital was in the Cayman Islands unprotected, which raised a few eyebrows as it was two-fifths of Noroeste’s overall value.
An investigation was carried out in Brazil, Britain, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the United States. Although the sale of the Bank still went on as the owners of the bank paid the $242 million bill, the negative acknowledgment still collapsed in 2001.
In 2002 then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, saw to the establishment of an anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
In 2004, all members of the gang were brought before Abuja High Court on 86 counts of ‘fraudulently seeking advance fees’ and 15 counts of bribery related to the case.
In 2005, Amaka confessed to helping Anajemba and was asked to repay $25.5 million. On top of that, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Nwude attempted to bribe Nuhu Ribadu, then chairman of the EFCC, with $75,000 cash but he was refused. Nwude was charged with attempted bribery.
Following Sakaguchi’s witness, Nwude finally pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five concurrent sentences of five years. He was asked to pay $10 million fine to the federal government.
Despite how it ended, Nwude would have to be extremely clever, convincing and manipulative to convince Nelson Sakaguchi to buy a fake airport! Or maybe Nelson Sakaguchi is extremely stupid.
How would you feel if you were Nelson Sakaguchi? We wouldn’t have felt too smart.