Ian Birrell

The conman who duped thousands with a patently absurd story

Promising his investors dazzling riches with his tale of hidden Ghanaian gold, the charismatic John Ackah Blay-Miezah pulled off one of the most brazen scams of the past century

John Ackah Blay-Miezah. [Yepoka Yeebo]

In the early months of 1981, investors in a Swiss fund stuffed with cash, diamonds and gold began arriving at a five-star London hotel to await an audience with the fiscal wizard making them fabulously rich. Dr John Ackah Blay-Miezah would turn up in his grey chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, clad in an immaculately tailored suit and clasping a big cigar in bejewelled hands. Then he would regale them with tales from his student days at the University of Pennsylvania, even singing the famous Penn fight song, and talk of developing Ghana using wealth plundered by his close friend Kwame Nkrumah, the country’s first post-independence president.

‘No one could create such a story,’ said one investor. ‘It simply has to be true’

Among the crowd was Barry Ginsberg, an American lawyer who originally put $5,000 in the fund on a promise of returns ten times higher. These failed to materialise, but he kept on investing and persuaded friends, his father and other family members to follow suit. He even helped pay for the fund’s offices. When the attorney worried about such lavish spending, he consoled himself with thoughts of the huge wealth heading his way. After ten days waiting for his meeting, Ginsberg was escorted into a dark room filled with the smell of incense and sounds of classical music. Blay-Miezah put his arm around him when asked about the timing of payday: ‘Soon, brother Ginsberg. Very soon.’

The entire scene was a charade. There was no Oman Ghana Trust Fund and Nkrumah did not cream off vast sums before his overthrow in a coup. Indeed, the suggestion that he ferried thousands of gold bars to Switzerland and then handed control of these riches to someone who would have been a teenager at the time was simply absurd. Even Blay-Miezah’s name was faked, along with his claims to be a doctor, to have studied at Pennsylvania University or to have been with Nkrumah at the former president’s deathbed in Romania.

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