Friday, February 06, 2004

Five Nigerians Charged in $242 Million '419' Fraud

I can't help feeling a touch of perverse pride at the sheer scale of the crime these chaps have committed - what was that again about dumb Africans and their illiterate missives? When Nigerians go in for crime, they don't bother with the small stuff, and they never deign to sully themselves by engaging in crimes of violence. No, the Nigerian way is the Enron way - white collar and obscenely lucrative.

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- Nigerian prosecutors leveled 86 counts of fraud and conspiracy against five people Thursday for allegedly swindling a Brazilian bank of $242 million, in the biggest crackdown yet on the West African nation's advance-fee fraud or "419" scams.

The five are accused of luring an employee of Sao Paulo's Banco Noroeste into siphoning off the funds from his employer, persuading him he could land a share in a lucrative Nigerian construction contract if he just paid enough handling fees up front.

The five appeared in court in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, in handcuffs to hear the charges Thursday. All the suspects, including housewife Amaka Anajemba, lawyer Obum Osakwe, and businessman Emmanuel Nwude -- described by prosecutors as "a major shareholder" in a leading Nigerian bank -- pleaded innocent.

Penalties for each of the counts range between seven and 10 years.

Four Nigerian companies -- Ocean Marketing, Fynbaz, Emrus, and the African Shelter Bureau -- also accused of involvement in the alleged crime were not represented in court.

Presiding Judge Lawal Gumi entered innocent pleas on behalf of the companies and postponed proceedings until Wednesday, when he will consider requests for bond.

There was mild drama in court when suspect Nzeribe Okoli, while making his plea, declared he would make "shocking revelations" during the trial.

"There are so many hidden things which Nigerians should know," Okoli said before he was interrupted by the judge, who told him to restrict his answers to the questions he was asked.

An interesting fact that needs pointing out is that all the accused are Igbo, which goes to show that there is some truth to the notion of a special Igbo enterpreneurial flair; here they are, blazing trails others will be hard-pressed to follow!