$242m fraudster held in Nigeria

Paul Lashmar
Sunday 29 June 2003 00:00 BST

The notorious Nigerian conman behind the biggest-ever advance-fee, or "419", fraud has been arrested. The move indicates that the recently re-elected President Olusegun Obasanjo is delivering on his promise to crack down on the conmen responsible for giving Nigeria the reputation of being the most corrupt country in the world.

Chief Emmanuel Nwude-Odenigwe, who masterminded the defrauding of Nelson Sakaguchi, a Brazilian bank manager, of $242m (£145m), was arrested last week at his residence in Lagos.

The 419 fraud centres on letters sent out by fax or email by criminal syndicates to millions of people around the world. The fraudsters pose as legitimate businessmen seeking the assistance of foreigners to transfer large sums of money out of Nigeria, and into their personal accounts, in exchange for a hefty commission. The recipient of the letter is asked to make an advance payment, as a sign of good faith or to bribe an official, and the businessman is never heard of again.

It is named after Article 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code which makes soliciting for advance fees a criminal offence. Mr Nwude-Odenigwe's fraud on Mr Sakaguchi is the biggest 419 fraud and allegedly led to the collapse of Banco Noroeste of Brazil. In the con, Mr Nwude- Odenigwe had posed as Paul Ogwuma, then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

President Obasanjo was re-elected in April declaring "total war" on 419 scams. "There will be no hiding place for these criminals who tarnish Nigeria's image," he said. The President ordered the formation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to tackle the frauds. It has now arrested 26 leading fraudsters including Mr Nwude-Odenigwe.

British police estimate that 419 fraudsters stole £150m last year in the UK alone.

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