The trial of three 419ers accused of taking an employee of a Brazilian bank for $242m of his employers' cash has collapsed after the judge in the Nigerian capital Abuja said he had "no jurisdiction to hear it".
Emmanuel Nwude, Mrs. Amaka Anajemba and Nzeribe Okoli were arrested on more than 86 counts and charged with "fraudulently obtaining through false pretence $242 million from one Nelson Sakaguehi [=Sakaguchi] and Stanton Development Corporation being the property of Banco Noroeste S. A. of Sao Paulo Brazil, purporting same to represent payment due to the Federal Government for the construction of the Abuja International Airport," according to the Daily Times of Nigeria.
"They were also accused of fraudulently using false documents purporting them to emanate from the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Corporate Affairs Commission, the indigenisation office, the presidency, the Federal republic of Nigeria, CBN Governor and Federal Ministry of Aviation, and addressed to Sakaguehi, Stanton Development Corporation, a subsidiary of Bank Noroeste Sao Paulo Brazil. They were said to have forged the documents to give effect to the airport contract," the Daily Times reported in February.
The scam reportedly took place over a four-year period from 1995. The victim was allegedly offered a $10m personal commission for fronting cash for the aforementioned Abuja International Airport project. He duly transferred huge sums of money to various bank accounts around the world.
However, Abuja High Court judge Lawal Gumi decided yesterday that since the offences had not been committed in the Nigerian capital, "It is my considered view that the appropriate place for the trial of the accused on those charges is the high court of Lagos. For these reasons... I do decline and strike out the case from my list," the BBC reports.
The three accused were released, but immediately rearrested and will now stand trial in Lagos.
Suspicions that judge Gumi may have been "nobbled" seem unfounded. He refused bail for the three defendants back in February after issuing an earlier warning that various monies were being made available to members of the court - presumably as bribes. He stressed that he would not tolerate this.
As for Nelson Sakaguchi, he was later arrested at New York's JFK airport and dispatched to Switzerland to stand trial on charges relating to setting up bank accounts there as part of the fraud. His former employers - Banco Noroeste - went bust as a result of the fleecing.
A fourth member of the 419 gang has, nonetheless, escaped justice - after a fashion. Ikechukwu Christian Anajemba posed as the deputy governor of the Bank of Nigeria at the initial meeting with Mr Sakaguchi. He was killed in a road accident in 1998, and is widely believed to have been murdered at the end of a lavish spendfest which saw him shell out $200,000 on two diamond-studded Rolex watches. Defendant Amaka Anajemba is Ikechukwa's presumably distraught widow. ®