This Article is From Oct 23, 2023

This Nigerian Man Once Sold A "Fake Airport" To A Brazilian Bank For $242 Million. Read His Story

Emmanuel Nwude was convicted in 2005 by a federal high court for pulling the biggest fraud called the '419 scam' in history.

This Nigerian Man Once Sold A 'Fake Airport' To A Brazilian Bank For $242 Million. Read His Story

Nwude received prison sentences totalling 25 years.

One of the greatest and the most fascinating scams that occurred in the 1990s involved Emmanuel Nwude, a Nigerian scammer who managed to sell a non-existent airport for an astounding $242 million. According to The Guardian Nigeria News, Nwude was convicted in 2005 for impersonating Paul Ogwuma, a governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in order to defraud a Brazilian bank. Under the guise, he managed to persuade Nelson Sakaguchi, the director of Brazil's Banco Noroeste bank, to invest in a fictitious new airport project in Nigeria's capital, Abuja. His scam, which was at the time the third-largest bank fraud in history, resulted in the collapse of Banco Noroeste in 2001.

To execute his masterful fraud, Nwude used his real-life experience as a director at the Union Bank of Nigeria to seamlessly assume the identity of the then Governor of the CBN. He also enlisted the assistance of several accomplices for the smooth execution of the operation, the outlet reported.  

Appearing in the figure of Paul Ogwuma, Nwude convinced Mr Sakaguchi to "invest" in a yet-to-be-built airport in Abuja, in exchange for a $10 million commission. The total deal was $242 million, with $191 million in cash and the remainder as outstanding interest between 1995 and 1998. Mr Sakaguchi ultimately fell for Nwude's bait, costing Banco Noroeste immense loss.

Nwude, on the other hand, was convicted in 2005 by a federal high court for pulling the biggest fraud called '419 scam' in history. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the 419 scam involves numerous schemes to defraud consumers that are found on the Internet. Scammers send mass letters, messages and emails seeking to defraud any recipient greedy enough to fall for their tricks. Nigerians call scams like these "Four One Nine," a reference to Article 419 of the country's criminal code, which deals with fraud.

How was Emmanuel Nwude's fraud exposed?

According to Medium, Nwude's scam came to light when Banco Santander, a Spanish multinational financial services company, attempted to acquire the Brazilian bank. During the joint discussions around the acquisition, a significant discrepancy came to light - a vast sum of money, which represented a substantial portion of the bank's value and liquid capital - appeared to be lying dormant in the Cayman Islands.

This led to the formation of a multinational criminal investigation team uniting authorities from Brazil, Britain, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the United States. Nigeria ultimately established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to arrest Nwude. Nelson Sakaguchi, on the other hand, was arrested at New York's John F Kennedy Airport and subsequently transported to Switzerland for trial.

However, amid all this, to salvage the situation, the Simonsen and Cochrane families, who own the Banco Noroeste, paid $242 million. But the bank's fate was sealed as it eventually collapsed in 2001.

After a long legal process, one of Nwude's accomplices confessed to the crime and received a prison sentence of two and a half years, along with an order to repay $25.5 million. Nwude and another accomplice of his later pleaded guilty and collectively received prison sentences totalling 25 years, The Guardian reported. His assets were also confiscated and returned to the victim.

Nwude's conviction was the first major conviction for the then-newly established Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

In 2006, he was released from prison, later filing a lawsuit to recover some of his assets, claiming that they had been acquired prior to the offence. He was able to recover $52 million worth of assets. In 2021, he also reportedly claimed that he was unaware of the $242 million airport scam. He said that his legal team had pressured him into pleading guilty two decades earlier.