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419 Case: Nwude Recovers Seized Assests

Posted by The PM News on 2008/10/31 | Views: 3285 |

419 Case: Nwude Recovers Seized Assests


A transcontinental fraud case, seen as a landmark in Nigeria’s efforts to fight endemic financial crime, is in danger of unravelling, heightening concerns for the country’s anti-graft drive, the Financial Times of London reported, today.

A transcontinental fraud case, seen as a landmark in Nigeria’s efforts to fight endemic financial crime, is in danger of unravelling, heightening concerns for the country’s anti-graft drive, the Financial Times of London reported, today.

The $180m (€140m, £110m) case involving Brazil’s Banco Noroeste, the biggest known example of the "419? advance-fee frauds that plague western office workers’ e-mail inboxes, was hailed as an important scalp in Nigeria’s long-awaited anti-corruption reforms.

But the actions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which pursued the 2005 case and became a darling of international aid donors, are now a subject of fierce debate after a purge of its high-profile head and other senior staff. Emmanuel Nwude, a prominent businessman convicted of masterminding the fraud in 2005, has so far reclaimed $52m of assets taken from him after his conviction.

At the same time, a prominent lawyer in the international team that made the seizures, has been hounded by the authorities over false suspicions of corruption, according to court papers. The Lagos High Court issued an emergency injunction last week, preventing the commission from "harassing" Babajide Ogundipe, a lawyer, who worked with counterparts from the UK, the US and Switzerland to recover $140m for Banco Noroeste investors.

Keith Oliver, a London-based lawyer, and fellow member of the international asset-recovery team, condemned the commission’s "ill-judged and disgraceful attack" on Mr Ogundipe. "It does nothing to enhance the standing of the commission in Nigeria’s fight against corruption," he said. The Noroeste case was an eye-catchingly large variation on the classic fraud - named 419 after the relevant section of the Nigerian criminal code - in which fraudsters ask targets for money in advance of a promised big pay-out later.

Enticed by the prospect of $39m of kickbacks on a project to build a new airport in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, Nelson Sakaguchi, a former Noroeste official, transferred huge sums of his employer’s money into offshore accounts linked to a group of tricksters, including Mr Nwude. Mr Nwude, who was released from prison in 2006, has launched a lawsuit to overturn a $110m forfeiture order made against his 14 properties in England and Nigeria, six cars and other assets, including numerous corporate shareholdings.

Farida Waziri, the new head of the commission, confirmed that she was aware of Mr Nwude’s claims and was keeping an eye on them. But Mrs. Waziri insisted that she had not ordered her agents to question either Mr Ogundipe or former commission officials linked to the asset seizures.

In last week’s proceedings, Mr Ogundipe told the court he had been summoned repeatedly by the commission for interrogation about suspected wrongdoing in his disposal of proceeds of the asset sale, even though he said this had been done perfectly properly. Mr -Ogundipe’s case will go to a full hearing next month.

The Noroeste financial recovery and the successful prosecution of Mr Nwude and Amaka Anajemba, an accomplice, led to the case being promoted as the prime example of Nigeria’s determination to emerge from decades of rampant corruption. International goodwill and money poured towards the commission, which said last month that it had a portfolio of about $40m in grants and credits from aid donors.

However, the atmosphere has soured after the contentious ousting a year ago of Nuhu Ribadu as the head of the agency and his key lieutenants, amid multiple investigations into suspected corruption involving influential politicians linked to the government of Umaru Yar’Adua, the president.


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