Who wants to be a millionaire? Quite a few of us

Share
Related Topics
The dilemma facing me this weekend is whether or not I should take $11m from four corrupt Nigerian civil servants. It's tempting; which of us, in these sunset days of financial probity, would not be tempted? It seems that all I have to do is indulge in a little crooked paperwork and the money is mine. It would be no more heinous than sitting on a company board and carving myself a fat slice of share options - a "victimless" crime, unless you happen to have been sacked recently in a cost-cutting exercise (sad, but someone has to pay for the rising value of all those share options!) or live poorly in Nigeria.

I have never been to Nigeria and know no Nigerians. The proposition arrived in the post on Tuesday, addressed to "the president" of Granta Publications, which is where I work as the editor of Granta magazine. The letter was smartly typed, headlined "Confidential Business Proposal", and began: "Having consulted with my colleagues and based on the information gathered from the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I have the privilege to request for your assistance to transfer the sum of forty-five million, five hundred thousand United States dollars (45.5m US dollars) into your account."

The writer, one Albert Katnka, described himself as an accountant with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. He and three other civil servants in Lagos had a problem. Five years ago, a foreign contractor had paid the $45m as a bribe (or "an over-invoiced contract" as my new friend Albert put it). The money was sitting in a frozen account at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Albert and his colleagues needed to export it, but, alas, as Nigerian civil servants they were forbidden to operate foreign bank accounts. If Granta would agree to receive the $45m in its London bank account "then the total sum would be shared as follows: 70 per cent for us, 25 per cent for you, and 5 per cent for local and international expenses incidental to the transfer".

The business would take only 30 working days to complete. It was "risk- free". All I had to do as the next step was to fax Albert requesting a "foreign contractor application form". So I did, and the same day saw a couple of pages from Nigeria crawling out of our fax machine. The form from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation looked convincingly official, and even if one of its clauses seemed rather too blatantly designed for bribery ("As agreed in article 9.5 of our supplementary contract agreement, please remit to our account specified above, the total sum of US$.... representing full and final payment of the above stated contract"). But then Nigeria is Nigeria - so rampantly corrupt, for all I know, that bribery has been codified and formalised on government stationery.

With the form came a letter marked strictly confidential. Albert said he was happy that I was "capable of handling a deal of this magnitude" and told me the project had been "conceived in a grand conspiracy with a network of high government officials", viz Albert and his three friends who were handily placed in the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Finance, and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. If I filled in and returned the form, they would make sure that my company was incorporated in Nigeria and registered as a major foreign contractor. Then the finance ministry would swiftly approve the transfer of funds, after I and a "government-appointed attorney" had signed the "fund release authority". I was to rest assured that once the $45m had entered my account, all documents relating to the deal would be destroyed.

Signing the release authority seemed the only snag. I would be expected to come down to Lagos for the signing ceremony. I didn't fancy that, but here Albert had already anticipated my fear of Lagos central jail. If I couldn't make it to Lagos, the government-appointed attorney could sign on my behalf. "Whichever option you choose," Albert wrote, "we do expect you to assist us in paying the lawyer."

I suppose this is the scam. The $45m does not exist, but you make this discovery only after you have sent a couple of thousand dollars for the lawyer and Albert has disconnected his fax machine. According to Patrick Hosking, this paper's city editor, Nigerian scams are so widespread and notorious that the Department of Trade and Industry regularly issues warnings about them. Many businesses in what is still known as the developed world have been stung by their own cupidity.

Perhaps Albert's project will work with someone else; perhaps it has already worked several times over. He is certainly investing time and money in postage stamps and faxes. He must look through lists of small British companies and send hundreds of letters. I can already see him and his briefcase dodging through the shimmering traffic of Lagos, on his way to the post office with another bundle designed to crack what is left of the idea of honest British business.

HAVING a haircut the other day in central London, I saw the hairdresser next to me handling a swatch of hair. It was about a foot long and light brown and seemed to be precious to him. He took it out of his drawer a couple of times and ran his fingers through it, almost lovingly. He said it was a hairpiece for a woman customer. I asked how much it would cost. "Oh," he said, "about pounds 500. It's real hair you see." It had come from a head either in India or China and had probably been dyed. He said he had handled more expensive pieces - he spoke like an expert on the Antiques Road Show. Tina Turner's, for example, came in at about pounds 700 each.

In Rohinton Mistry's new novel, A Fine Balance, there is a character who makes his living in Bombay by collecting hair for export, and who eventually murders beggars to scalp them of particularly long and luxurious tresses. Fiction, of course, but perhaps Tina Turner should read it. From my memory of the book, the mark-up from Bombay dealer to London salon looks to be at least 70,000 per cent.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum