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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 13:29 GMT
Bank scam trial delay in Nigeria
By Anna Borzello
BBC correspondent in Abuja

The trial of five people charged in connection with defrauding a Brazilian bank of $242m has been delayed after the judge failed to show up at court in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

The bank at the centre of the alleged fraud collapsed in 2001
The Banco Noroeste of Sao Paulo collapsed in 2001 after an employee transferred the money into foreign accounts believing he would receive a massive kickback on a building contract.

Five Nigerians face 86 charges in connection with defrauding the bank.

They include two lawyers charged with bribery after reportedly offering cash to Nigeria's economic and financial crimes commission on behalf of their clients.

The accused, who were last month refused bail, have all pleaded not guilty.

Pay back promise

This is the largest known fraud case of its kind in Nigeria's history.

The money was transferred from the Brazilian bank between 1995 and 1998 by an employee who believed he would receive a massive cut on a contract to build a new international airport in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

The crime was only discovered when the bank collapsed in 2001.

This type of fraud is well-known in Nigeria where it is referred to as "419", after the relevant section in the country's criminal code.

Victims are drawn in with the offer of huge sums of money, but once hooked they are persuaded that to access the funds they need to pay advance fees.

The US secret service estimates that each year hundreds of millions of dollars are lost to "419" fraudsters.

Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has pledged to crack down on the crime and hopes the trial will prove his government is serious about tackling the problem.

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