February 20, 2009

Man Accused Of Stealing $27.2 Million From Ethiopia Acct

(Updates with additional details of allegations beginning in eighth paragraph.)

By Chad Bray


NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- A Nigerian citizen pleaded not guilty Friday to a criminal charge in an alleged scheme to steal more than $27 million from a bank account held by the National Bank of Ethiopia in New York.

Paul Gabriel Amos, 37 years old, entered a plea of not guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck in Manhattan. He faces up to 30 years in prison on the charge if convicted.

The magistrate judge ordered Amos be temporarily detained at the hearing. Amos was arrested in Los Angeles last month when he attempted to enter the U.S.

Sabrina Shroff, his court-appointed lawyer, said at the hearing that Amos, a one-time resident of Singapore, was involved in plea discussions with the government.

A hearing is scheduled in the case for March 6.

Prosecutors allege Amos and others caused Citibank NA, a unit of Citigroup Inc. (C), to make about 24 wire transfers from the National Bank of Ethiopia's account in Manhattan to accounts controlled by Amos and others around the world between Oct. 2 and Oct. 16, 2008, totaling nearly $27.2 million.

U.S. prosecutors are seeking to have Amos forfeit $15.7 million, the amount of proceeds obtained as a result of the alleged conspiracy, according to court documents.

According to court documents, Citibank issued formal recall notices on Oct. 17 for the funds transferred and three recipient banks returned funds, including a $850,000 payment sent to the Bank of China. There is no indication in court documents how much has been recovered in total.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, which brought the case, didn't immediately have a comment Friday on how much has ultimately been recovered.

The government alleged Amos and others caused bogus documents to be sent to Citibank purportedly issued by officials at the Ethiopian bank last September. The signatures on the documents appeared to match signatures for National Bank of Ethiopia officials in Citibank's records, prosecutors said.

The forged documents allegedly authorized Citibank to accept wire-transfer instructions from the bank by fax, and included a list of authorized officials who could be called to confirm details of any fax instructions, the government said.

The verification telephone numbers provided to Citibank didn't belong to bank officials in Ethiopia, but instead were mobile-phone numbers in the U.K., Nigeria and South Africa used by Amos's co-conspirators, prosecutors said.

On Oct. 18, Citibank officials contacted and met with the governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia while he was traveling to the U.S. on business. He indicated none of the transactions were authorized by the bank, according to court documents.

After determining the wire transfer instructions were bogus, a probe by Citibank found the courier package that delivered the bogus documents was collected at an address in Lagos, Nigeria, not from the National Bank of Ethiopia's offices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, according to court documents.

"We have worked closely with law enforcement throughout the investigation and are pleased it has resulted in this arrest," a Citigroup spokeswoman said in a statement Friday.

According to Citibank, all the funds were credited back to the client.

(Kerry E. Grace contributed to this story.)

-By Chad Bray, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-227-2017; chad.bray@dowjones.com

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