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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Huge Nigeria scam trial collapses
The bank at the centre of the alleged fraud collapsed in 2001
Nigeria's biggest fraud case has been dismissed after the judge said he had no jurisdiction to hear it.

Three Nigerians had denied stealing more than $242m from a bank in Brazil.

They had allegedly persuaded a senior bank official to send the money for what they claimed to be a new airport in exchange for a $10m commission.

Correspondents say Nigeria has gained global notoriety for such scams, in which people are promised vast wealth for their help in dubious schemes.

'Strike out'

Abuja High Court judge Lawal Gumi decided on Monday that as the offences had not taken place in the Nigerian capital he had no jurisdiction to try the case.

"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," he said.

The three Nigerians were released but immediately rearrested as soon as they left the court building.

An official told the BBC's Mannir Dan-Ali in Abuja that they would soon be transferred to a Lagos court.

The three, and two alleged accomplices, are accused of telling the head of international finance at Banco Noroeste in Sao Paolo, Brazil that he would get a huge personal commission he would get in return for investing up front in the Nigerian airport contract.

The Brazilian banker allegedly dug illegally into his bank's funds and transferred $242m in a series of payments to accounts around the world.

'Global network'

Nuhu Ribadu, head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said the swindle took place over a four-year period starting in 1995.

The discovery of the scam has led to criminal investigations in Switzerland, Britain, the United States and Brazil, said Mr Ribadu.

A feature of the case is "the truly global network of fraudulent individuals" involved, he said.

Such advance-fee frauds are also known as "419 scams" - named after the section of Nigeria's criminal code that prohibits fraud.

It involves scam artists - often masquerading as corrupt officials or sons and daughters of dead dictators - offering people via e-mail or faxes shares in hidden fortunes in exchange for simple administrative assistance.

Victims are then tricked into handing over their bank account details, or paying out on never-ending "service charges".

Mr Ribadu said his commission - set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo's government - intended to use this case to show "no one is above the law".

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