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US: Nigerian man accused in $US27 million scheme

22 Feb 2009 1:27 AM

NEW YORK, Feb 21 AP - A Nigerian man has been charged with trying to swindle nearly $US27 million ($A42 million) from a Citibank account in New York held by Ethiopia's central bank.

Paul Gabriel Amos, 37, worked the scheme by sending fake documents to Citibank in New York, where the National Bank of Ethiopia kept funds, purporting to authorise money transfers to accounts that he and co-conspirators controlled, according to the US Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.

Amos and his co-conspirators made wire transfers to accounts in Australia, China, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the US, federal prosecutors said. It was a variation on a very common scheme where someone overseas tries to access a person's bank account.

Amos pleaded not guilty on Friday in Federal District Court in Manhattan to one count of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud. He had been living in Singapore and was arrested last month as he tried to enter the US, prosecutors said.

A spokesman for the Ethiopian embassy in Washington told The New York Times: "We are aware of this unfortunate story." He would not comment further.

The fraud was uncovered after banks where the conspirators held accounts returned money to Citibank because they had been unable to process the transactions, and the National Bank of Ethiopia did not recognise the transactions, according to a complaint signed by Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Bryan Trebelhorn.

A spokeswoman for Citigroup, the parent company of Citibank, told the Times the company had worked with law enforcement on the case and was pleased with the arrest.

"Citi constantly reviews and upgrades its physical, electronic and procedural safeguards to detect, prevent and mitigate theft," said the spokeswoman, who was not named.