The other day I got an email from India. Actually, it was the fourth time I have received the identical message. Most people would probably consider the unsolicited message spam, but something about the charming way it was worded leads me to feel differently.
“Seasoned Greetings!” the message begins, which strikes me as a reasonable salutation from a country known for its spices. The sender is named Rajeeve Om Joshi, and he identifies himself as the director of a company known as The Josh, which is about as friendly a name for a company as I have ever heard. I think I would like to do business with a company called “The Josh.” .
”It’s good to have strong partners,” Rajeev says in his first sentence, which is a sentiment I can certainly agree with. “Joining forces with like-minded people can have a decidedly positive effect on our lives.” Another wise observation.
Getting down to business, it turns out that The Josh manufactures “corporate gifts and handicrafts.” I have to admit that I am a little puzzled as to why Rajeev has contacted me. True, I am the proprietor of a small, non-profit business. OK, the business is just me, and I never meant it to be non-profit—it just is. So, unfortunately, I don’t need any corporate gifts or handicrafts at the moment. But I feel gratified that Rajeev has included me in his outreach.
As much as I like the verbal stylings of my new friend from India, some of the money-laundering pleas coming from West Africa, often Nigeria, are in a class of their own. If you’ve received any of these and discarded them without reading all the way through, you have done yourself a great disservice. They are not merely great prose, they are almost literature, complete with tales of woe and skullduggery and plots that are better than most television serials.
There are numerous versions of the letters, but in a typical example an honest, low-level civil servant has discovered millions of dollars squirreled away by absent-minded corrupt government officials, which he would like to share with you in exchange for the temporary use of your bank account.
As one such letter explains,
“during the last military government here in Nigeria which lasted about eleven months, government officials set up companies and awarded themselves various contracts which were grossly over-invoiced in various ministries. The present civilian government is not aware of the atrocities committed by their predecessors and as a result, we have a lot of such over invoiced contract payments pending which we have identified floating at the central bank of Nigeria ready for payment. However by virtue of our position as civil servants, we cannot acquire this money in our names. I was therefore delegated as a matter of urgency by my colleagues to look for an over seas partner into whose account we would transfer the sum of US$31,000,000.00 (THIRTY ONE MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS) hence we are writing you this letter.
Who would not be intrigued by such an opportunity?
The most effective letters, I think, are the more personal ones. One such letter begins:
Dear Sir/ Madam
SAVE OUR SOUL
With deep sense of frustration and desperation I have decided to reach out to the world for help and that is what this letter is all about. I am Mr. Abbas Abacha the third son of Late General Sani Abacha of Nigeria, former Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, whose sudden death occurred on 8th June, 1998.
Owing to allegations of financial misappropriations levelled against my father, the immediate past Military Government of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar froze all traceable local and foreign bank accounts in the family’s name and also seized our vast estates together with other fixed assets of my family. My mother is still under house arrest since June last year and my elder brother Mohammed is currently in detention being prosecuted by the incumbent democratic government charged with series of allegations.
Mr Abacha goes on to explain that his father stashed $27 million dollars in one of their houses which was not detected by the “security operatives,” and that he is offering 25% of that amount as a reward for helping him get it out of the country. I’d like to know where that $27 million came from, but I’m sure it would be uncharitable for one to wonder whether there was any grounds for accusing the good general of “financial misapropriations.”
All things considered, I still prefer hearing from Rajeev (I hope he keeps me on his mailing list, even though I suspect we won’t be doing business together.) He may not offer me vast sums of money, but his wisdom is priceless. As he notes at the end of his letter: “Distinguishing one business from another through the advertising hype that pervades our world is a tiring adventure.” So true.