July 24, 2024
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Meet Emmanuel Nwude: The Man Who Sold a Fake Airport to an International Bank

There have been frauds in history, but selling an airport to an international client without physical site seeing for verification and legitimacy of the deal is rather bizarre.

Emmanuel Nwude Odinigwe, famously known as Owelle of Abagana, pulled one of the greatest frauds in banking history. His scam is the third largest in banking history in the world. Nwude is regarded as one of the smartest criminals in history.

The banking frauds that are a step ahead of Nwude’s stunt are the looting of the Iraqi Central Bank by Qusay Hussein and Nick Leeson’s trading losses at Barings Bank.

Emmanuel Nwude’s top-notch fraud of $242 million. Nelson Sakaguchi, the director of Brazil’s Banco Noroeste based in São Paulo, was the victim of Nwude’s gimmicks.

To perpetuate this huge crime, Nwude needed to appear in the robe of an influential Nigerian. The easiest personality he could wear at that time was that of Paul Ogwuma, then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

This personality was easy for Nwude to wear because he was the Director of Union Bank of Nigeria then. So mirroring the personality of any banker will come in a handful for Nwude.

Aside from wearing Paul Ogwuma’s personality, Nwude needed other accomplices to facilitate the fraud. So he employed the expertise of Emmanuel Ofolue, Nzeribe Okoli, and Obum Osakwe, along with the husband and wife duo, Christian Ikechukwu Anajemba and Amaka Anajemba, for the smooth execution of the operation.

Appearing in the figure of Paul Ogwuma, Nwude convinced Sakaguchi to “invest” in a new airport in the nation’s capital, Abuja, in exchange for a $10 million commission.

Sakaguchi fell for the bait, costing Banco Noroeste a huge loss.

How was Nwude’s fraud exposed?

In 1997, Banco Santander, a Spanish multinational financial services company, moved to take over Banco Noroeste Brazil. While at a joint meeting to facilitate the takeover, a large vacuum was uncovered. The vacuum looks so massive that it was given a proper look.

It was uncovered that a huge sum of funds was lying fallow in the Cayman Islands untouched. This fund is about two-fifths of the bank’s total value and half of its capital.

This led to the set up of a criminal investigation team in the countries where the individuals involved are residents. The countries are Brazil, Britain, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the United States. The newly constituted anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), hunted Nwude in Nigeria.

Nelson Sakaguchi was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and offloaded to 

and dispatched to Switzerland to stand trial on charges relating to setting up bank accounts there as part of the fraud

But to buffer the situation, as damage control, the Simonsen and Cochrane families, who own the Banco Noroeste, paid the $242 million. One would think that this should be enough to to save the situation, but the bank collapsed in 2001.

As for Nelson Sakaguchi, he was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and offloaded to Switzerland to stand trial on charges against him relating to fraud.

Nwude’s Trail

At the request of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was created by the Nigerian Parliament in 2002.

In 2004, Nwude and his accomplices were arrested by the EFCC and charged 86 counts ranging from bribery and fraudulently seeking advance fees at the Abuja High Court.

They all pleaded not guilty to the charges. However, the judge,  Lawal Gumi, alleged that there was an attempt to bribe court staff.

Years later, the case was thrown out by Gumi, who stated that the crime wasn’t committed in Abuja as the offence was committed in Lagos, miles away from his jurisdiction.

Nwude and his cohorts were arrested outside the courthouse and taken to Lagos. 

This case was one of the major cases of the EFCC after it was constituted. The then chairman of the agency, Nuju Ribadu, alleged that Nwude tried to bribe him with $75,000 cash.

This further made the case complicated for Nwude as charges of attempted bribery and the attempted kidnapping of a prosecution witness added to his existing case.

One of Nwude’s cohort, Amaka Anajemba, admitted to the crime and was sent to two and a half years in prison and ordered to repay $25.5 million.

Later, Emmanuel and one of his accomplices, Nzeribe Okoli, pleaded guilty to the offence after testimony from Sakaguchi.

He was then collectively sentenced to 29 years in prison, with Nwude receiving five concurrent sentences of five years, totalling 25 and Okoli receiving four.

This was accompanied by the confiscation of all of Nwude’s assets. It was returned to the victim.

Nwude was released in 2006.


In 2006, Nwude filed a lawsuit to recover his assets after he was released from prison. Stating that some of the assets were acquired before he committed the offence.

He was, however, able to recover  $52 Million of it.

In a court hearing of the case in 2021, Nwude reportedly stated that he didn’t know about the $242 million airport scam. He said he was convinced by his legal team, led by Dr Chris Uche (SAN) when he was in prison, to make a plea bargain agreement with the EFCC.

In his words, Nwude said, “I told him that I’m not responsible for the 242 million dollars. That I’m not responsible for this money, I don’t know anything about it.

“The EFCC should check all the remittances that came through my accounts, though I have my friend, late Christian Anajemba’s (husband of Amaka, his co-defendant) various bank accounts.

“As money came to my accounts, I gave it to one of my Indian friends, Mr Naresh Asnani, who has contact with a Swiss bank, who in turn does the exchange for me.

“When the money comes in, he (Asnani) took his commission and I’ll take my commission and I give the large sum to Christian Anajemba,” .

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