Banco Noroeste S.A. was a Brazilian bank at the centre of the 419 scam, which was described as the “single biggest advanced fee fraud case in the whole world” by the former chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu. Between May 1995 and February 1998, a total of US$242 million was reportedly stolen from the Banco Noroeste S. A. through offshore banks in the Cayman islands. The money was remitted by swift transfers through various banks to accounts controlled by Nigerian nationals, Ikechukwu Christian Anajemba, Emmanuel Odinigwe Nwude, Nzeribe Okoli and Amaka Anajemba (wife of Ikechukwu Christian Anajemba). The authorisation for all the transfers was done by Nelson Tetsuo Sakaguchi, a senior official at the bank. The Nigerians, in a 419 plan, came up with a fake contract to build an airport in Abuja. They promised Nelson Tetsuo Sakaguchi a big commission in exchange for funding the contract.
The fraud was detected in February 1998 while Sakaguchi was on vacation, in the process of auditing carried out in readiness for the intended sale of the Bank Noroeste to Spanish banking group Banco Santander. Inquiry revealed discrepancies in the bank’s books, with at least US$242 million missing. Of this sum, US$190 million had been transferred directly to accounts controlled by the Nigerians or through unlawful money changing operations conducted by Naresh Asnani (a British subject of Indian descent resident in Nigeria) and Ezugo Dan Nwandu (a Nigerian businessman resident in Enugu).
Following the discoveries, civil actions aiming to recover the money were commenced in Brazil, Switzerland, Hong Kong, the United States of America and in Nigeria. In addition to the civil actions, criminal complaints were laid in Brazil, Switzerland, USA, Hong Kong and Nigeria.
The accused persons and companies were charged with obtaining by false pretence $190 million from one of the directors of Banco Noroeste Bank.
In prosecution, Nwude and Okoli plead guilty to numerous crimes and forfeited $121.5 million dollars in assets. Anajemba too pleaded guilty and she received a two and half-year sentence after agreeing to give back $48.5 million.
In July 2002, investigators acting for the bank’s shareholders (with the assistance of Dr. Hakim Ukeh – also suspected of participating in the fraud) persuaded Sakaguchi to visit New York, ostensibly for a meeting with the shareholders, where he was arrested on an international warrant issued by the Swiss government and extradited to Switzerland to answer money laundering charges. He admitted involvement in the fraud. 6 In December 2002, Naresh Asnani was arrested in Miami, while en route to a meeting with lawyers acting for the shareholders, on an international warrant issued by the Swiss Government. He was extradited to Switzerland to answer similar charges of money-laundering. On October 31 2003, he too admitted involvement in the fraud.