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That Time a Nigerian Scammer Sold a Fake Airport for $242 Million

Happy #throwbackthursday. For this week’s story, we’re taking everyone back to that one time in the 1990s when, in the Ponzi scheme of all Ponzi schemes, a scam artist managed to sell an entire airport to an international bank even though the airport didn’t actually exist. 

Once upon a time, before he carried out the biggest scam in Nigeria (and the third-largest in banking history), Emmanuel Nwude was an average guy who worked as the Director of the Union Bank of Nigeria. In addition to regular income, that job gave him access to a lot of classified documents and information. In 1995, after he quit his job as Director of the Union Bank of Nigeria, Nwude used the inside information from his former job to pretend to be Paul Ogwuma, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Then, the fake Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria convinced Nelson Sakaguchi, a Director of Brazil’s Banco Noroeste to buy a stake in Nigeria’s newest airport—which was just about to be built—in the capital city Abuja for around $242 million. If the Brazilian bank Director got in on the ground floor before the airport was built, claimed Nwude, he would get about $10 million in commission as well as the dividends of his airport investment. Eager to cash in on a sweetheart deal, Sakaguchi paid Nwude (pretending to be Ogwuma) $191 million in cash and $51 million in outstanding interest.

Unfortunately for the Brazilian bank Director, the Abuja airport was a complete fiction. But, by the time he figured it out, Nwude (and his accomplices) fled with the money. Nwude got away with it until 2004 when he was brought before the Adjuba High Court and charged with 86 counts of “fraudulently seeking advance fees” and 16 counts of bribery. However, after rumors that Nwude handsomely bribed the court staff, the case was thrown out. The case was then moved to Lagos. There, Nwude attempted to bribe the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with $75,000 cash but, he couldn’t escape justice. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, had his assets confiscated (and returned to the victim) and was ordered to pay a $10 million fine to the Nigerian government to boot.

He is currently appealing the charges and has successfully sued to reclaim at least $52 million of his seized assets.



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