Emmanuel Nwude Odinigwe, better known as the “Owelle of Abagana,” orchestrated an elaborate scam, selling a non-existent airport for an astounding $375 million AUD ($242 million USD).
We’ve covered some pretty wild travel stories in our time here at DMARGE — from the disappearing plane to the man that urinated all over business class — but this one might just take the biscuit; the astonishing feat of deception ranked Nwude’s scam as the third-largest fraud ever recorded, as reported by News Wire Nigeria.
Emmanuel Nwude’s masterful fraud — amounting to a staggering $242 million USD — targeted Nelson Sakaguchi, the director of Brazil’s Banco Noroeste. Nwude used his real-life experience as a director at Union Bank of Nigeria to seamlessly assume the identity of Paul Ogwuma, then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, to perpetuate his scheme.
To execute his plan, Nwude enlisted the assistance of several accomplices, including Emmanuel Ofolue, Nzeribe Okoli, Obum Osakwe, Christian Ikechukwu Anajemba, and Amaka Anajemba. Under the guise of Paul Ogwuma, Nwude persuaded Sakaguchi to invest in a fictitious new airport project in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, promising a commission of $10 million USD.
WATCH: Joe Rogan does a characteristic deep-dive on the incident:
The colossal deal was ostensibly worth $242 million, with $191 million expected to be paid in cash and the remaining amount as outstanding interest accrued between 1995 and 1998. Falling for Nwude’s intricate trap, Sakaguchi’s Banco Noroeste incurred immense losses after taking Nwude’s bait hook, line, and sinker.
However, the fraud later came to light when Banco Santander — a Spanish multinational financial services company — attempted to acquire Banco Noroeste. During joint discussions around the acquisition, a significant discrepancy came to light: a vast sum of money — which represented a substantial portion of the bank’s value and liquid capital — appeared to be laying dormant in the Cayman Islands…
The revelation set off a chain reaction that led to the formation of a multinational criminal investigation team uniting authorities from Brazil, Britain, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the United States. Nigeria ultimately established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to apprehend Nwude, and Sakaguchi was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and subsequently transported to Switzerland for trial.
Despite best efforts to salvage the situation, the Simonsen and Cochrane families — owners of Banco Noroeste — had already paid the staggering $242 million USD sum, and the bank’s fate was sealed; it eventually collapsed less than a year after Nwude’s arrest.
After a drawn-out legal process, Nwude’s accomplice — Amaka Anajemba — confessed to the crime and received a prison sentence of two and a half years, along with an order to repay $25.5 million USD. Nwude and Nzeribe Okoli later pleaded guilty and collectively received prison sentences totalling 29 years, with Nwude serving 25 concurrent sentences. Nwude’s assets were also confiscated and returned to the victim.
In 2006, he was released from prison, later filing a lawsuit to recover some of his assets, claiming that they had been acquired prior to the offence. In an absolutely baffling turn of events, Nwude claimed in 2021 that he was unaware of the $242 million USD airport scam, suggesting that his legal team had pressured him into pleading guilty two decades earlier.
The lesson here is pretty simple: If you’re going to commit a multi-million dollar fraud, don’t get caught… and maybe start a little smaller; a whole airport is a hell of a thing to try and blag. But, as the famous saying goes, God loves a trier.