The Kuwaitis were ured into a shady deal with fraudsters from Nigeria who used Sani Abacha as bait.
Three Nigerians, claiming affiliation to the late Head of State, Sani Abacha, swindled US$1.375million (N204 million) out of two Kuwaiti businessmen, UK court documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES have shown.
The multimillion naira fraud, which occurred between August 2001 and March 2002, also involved the now defunct City Express Bank although the presiding judge, Justice Treacy, largely found the bank innocent of “dishonest assistance.”
In his ruling, Mr. Treacy noted that there was nothing to show that the bank had prior knowledge of the impending scam.
In May 2001, Qumar Bello, acting on behalf of Abdulkadir Abacha, alleged to be the brother of the late general, contacted Adnan Abou-Rahmah, a Kuwaiti lawyer, seeking his assistance to invest US$65million in an Arab country.
Mr. Abou-Rahmah flew out to the Republic of Benin, where the money, allegedly belonging to the Abacha family trust, was stashed; and by August, a formal agreement had been entered by both parties.
In the agreement, as a reward for Mr. Abou-Rahmah’s assistance in investing the US$65million in Kuwait’s “very buoyant” real estate, 40 percent of the trust money as well as 15 percent of the income produced would accrue to the Kuwaiti lawyer and his client, Khalid Al-Fulaij and Sons General Trading and Contracting company.
While in Benin, Mr. Abou-Rahmah also met with ‘bankers’, ‘ministers’ as well as a host of ‘public officials’, dissolving any prior suspicion of foul play.
After agreeing on the sharing formula with the Kuwaiti; the trio of Mr. Bello, Mr. Abacha, and a third colleague, Aboubakar Mohammed Maiga, claimed that a series of bureaucratic obstacles involving various payments had to be made before the trust capital could be transferred out of the country.
But the fraudsters agreed to clear the payment, only soliciting a “contribution” from Mr. Abou-Rahmah.
In August, 2001, the first part of Mr. Abou-Rahmah’s “contributions” – US$100,000 in cash wired to the fraudsters – as part of a US$450,000 they claimed had to be paid to the Ministry of Finance in Benin to secure authorisation of the trust capital.
Two months later, the Kuwaiti lawyer wired another US$450,000, part of a fee allegedly to be paid to the Benin Drug Enforcement Agency to obtain a drugs certificate needed for the release of the money.
Again, on the 9th of January, 2002, Mr. Abou-Rahmah wired US$400,000 to the fraudsters. Another US$225,000 was paid one month later. Both monies, alleged to be VAT payable on the trust capital, were paid into City Express Bank’s HSBC bank account in Poultry, London.
The funds were to be held for Trust International, the name of the client Mr. Abacha instructed the Kuwaiti lawyer to pay the money.
The bank subsequently transferred the naira equivalent sums of the money to its client’s account at Apapa, Lagos.
However, the actual name of the client was Trusty International while its principals were Yusuf Ibrahim and Nasir Saminu.
The duo cleared the money as soon as it reached the account.
The US$65million never materialised.
The fraudsters vanished.
Quest for justice
With their supposed business partners as well as their money disappearing without trace; Mr. Abou-Rahmah and his partner headed to the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, in London, accusing City Express Bank of “dishonest assistance.”
The Kuwaitis contended that the bank’s handling of the US$625,000 which it paid to Trusty International as against Trust International amounted to fraud against them.
In his ruling, the judge held that although Dare Faronbi, the bank’s Apapa branch manager, was aware that Messrs Ibrahim and Saminu were involved in a bureau de change business usually used to launder money for Nigerian politicians, who constitute a large number of their clients; his denial of not having any specific knowing that Trusty International was aiding corrupt politicians, at the time, was accepted.
“I have come to the conclusion that at the time… Mr. Faronbi probably suspected, in a general way that Messrs Ibrahim and Saminu might be, in the course of their business from time to time, assisting corrupt politicians to launder money,” said the judge.
“There was nothing to show that Mr. Faronbi had any particularly suspicions about the transactions which were the subject of this case,” he added.
The judge also dismissed claims from City Express Bank that Mr. Abou-Rahmah was an accomplice in crime since he must have realized that the supposed trust capital to be transferred to him were associated with the Abacha family, and thus, were the proceeds of crime.
“I should say at this stage that I regard the claimed relationship to General Abacha as yet another component of the fraud perpetrated upon the claimants; I consider it extremely doubtful that any such relationship existed,” the judge noted.
Also, the judge held that even if Mr. Faronbi had noticed the discrepancy between ‘Trust’ and ‘Trusty’, the production of documents would reasonably have overridden any question as to the intended recipient of the monies.
“The failure to observe the discrepancy between ‘Trust’ and ‘Trusty’ was not a wilful or reckless closing of eyes. It represented a failure to notice; something which could not be put any higher than mere negligence,” the judge ruled