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Emmanuel Nwude: Meet Nigerian scammer who sold$242m fake airport

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In the annals of financial deception, Emmanuel Nwude Odinigwe, known as the Owelle of Abagana, etched his name with one of the most audacious scams in banking history. 

Ranked as one of the largest globally, following only the infamous looting of the Iraqi Central Bank and Nick Leeson’s Barings Bank debacle, Nwude’s fraudulent masterpiece involved the sale of a fictitious airport to Nelson Sakaguchi, director of Brazil’s Banco Noroeste.

Nwude’s stratagem was not only daring but intricately planned. Posing as the esteemed Paul Ogwuma, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, a persona easily adopted due to Nwude’s role as the Director of Union Bank of Nigeria at the time. 

To execute his grand scheme, Nwude enlisted a network of collaborators, including Emmanuel Ofolue, Nzeribe Okoli, Obum Osakwe, and the husband-wife team, Christian Ikechukwu Anajemba and Amaka Anajemba.

Under the guise of Paul Ogwuma, Nwude successfully persuaded Sakaguchi to invest a staggering $242 million in a fictitious airport project in Abuja. 

The elaborate deal involved $191 million in cash and the remaining amount as outstanding interest between 1995 and 1998.

The intricate web began to unravel in 1997 when Banco Santander uncovered a substantial financial vacuum during discussions about taking over Banco Noroeste Brazil. 

Approximately two-fifths of the bank’s total value and half of its capital were discovered dormant in the Cayman Islands. 

This revelation triggered a multi-country criminal investigation involving Brazil, Britain, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the United States.

The aftermath was swift and impactful. Nelson Sakaguchi, apprehended at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, led to the Simonsen and Cochrane families, Banco Noroeste’s owners, paying the $242 million in an attempt to salvage the situation. However, the bank ultimately succumbed, collapsing in 2001.

The wheels of justice turned in 2002 with the creation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria. 

In 2004, Nwude and his accomplices faced a litany of charges, including bribery and fraudulently seeking advance fees, totaling 86 counts. 

Though pleading not guilty, the trial faced complications, including accusations of attempted bribery against EFCC chairman Nuju Ribadu.

Ultimately, Nwude and Nzeribe Okoli pleaded guilty, receiving a collective 29-year sentence. Nwude, with five concurrent sentences totaling 25 years, saw all his assets confiscated by the EFCC, later returned to Sakaguchi. 

Released in 2006, Nwude sought to recover his assets, reclaiming $52 million in a lawsuit filed in 2006.

In a surprising twist during a 2021 court hearing, Nwude claimed ignorance of the $242 million airport scam, stating he was convinced to enter a plea bargain agreement with the EFCC while in prison. 

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