Nigeria’s financial crimes agency has returned US $17 million to a Brazilian bank – the first instalment of $242 million siphoned by scammers, government officials said.
The swindle – which led to the bank’s collapse – marks one of the biggest cases of “419” fraud that government officials have cracked.
Nigeria has become notorious for fraudsters who pitch bogus schemes to entice people to part with large sums of money in expectation of higher returns. The scams are known as “419” deals, named for the section of the country’s legal code that forbids such crimes.
On Monday, the head of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu, made the refund of US $17 million to William Richey, a lawyer representing the defunct Banco Noroeste of Sao Paolo, Brazil.
“By making this restitution to the victim of the scam we also want to send a strong, unequivocal message that we will no longer harbour such fraudulently acquired funds no matter where the victim is,” Ribadu said in the statement.
Ribadu said more money recovered from three Nigerians convicted of the scam would eventually be returned to the bank.
Emmanuel Nwude and Nzeribe Okoli were convicted on Friday by a high court in Lagos for their role in the scam. Nwude got a 35-year jail term while Okoli was sentenced to 12 years. They are also to forfeit assets worth more than US $121 million.
A third Nigerian, housewife Amaka Anajemba, was convicted in July and jailed for two and a half years. Anajemba was also ordered by the court to give up cash and assets of over $48 million, including houses in Nigeria, the United States and Switzerland.
Convictions in the Brazilian bank case represent the government’s most significant victory against fraud thus far.
Nigerian security agencies have redoubled efforts to combat such scams under President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has long pledged to tackle the rampant fraud that flourished in the country’s long period of corrupt military rule.
Prosecutors alleged that those convicted were part of a fraud ring, including Anajemba’s late husband, that tricked a top official of the Brazilian bank into transferring funds between 1996 and 2001 into various bank accounts around the world on the promise he would earn a $13.4 million kickback from a fictitious airport contract.