Government says it will not stand in way of justice after 77 Nigerian nationals are among 80 suspects indicted in US
Nigeria’s federal government has urged the international community not to let a minority of individuals tarnish the country’s reputation after the revelation of a high-profile financial crime investigation by the US government.
At the same time officials warned Nigerian nationals across the globe that they will not stand in the way of justice being administered on those who break the law in other countries.
The comments came after officials in the US indicted 80 people for fraud and money laundering offences amounting to $46m (£38m).
“The action of a single Nigerian is not the action of all Nigerians … [who] are hardworking and honest people … [We] should not be tagged ‘fraudulent people’ for the misdeeds of a few,” said presidential spokesman Garba Shehuin an interview with a Nigerian news channel.
But he added: “Every citizen of this country who travels out of the country is required to obey the laws of their host countries. The government would not stand in the way of the justice system.”
“We will identify perpetrators – no matter where they reside – and we will cut off the flow of ill-gotten gains,” said US Attorney Nick Hanna, in a press statement about the investigation, which started in 2016 and is believed to be one of the largest of its kind in US history.
The US attorney’s office for the central district of California filed a 145-page, 252-count indictment naming 80 suspects, at least 77 of whom were Nigerian nationals. The indictment was unsealed following a series of raids.
Prosecutors allege that the LA-based criminal network was involved in a multi-million-dollar conspiracy to steal from US citizens and businesses, using online scams, identity theft, mirrored companies and fraudulent accounts. The network mainly targeted vulnerable, elderly women, who were fooled into transferring large sums of money following sham online romances. The fraudsters also targeted businesses, impersonating employees using a system referred to as business email compromise (BEC).
Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said: “Billions of dollars are lost annually, and we urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims.”
Fourteen suspects were arrested on 22 August. Three others were already being held.
Among those arrested were two Nigerians who investigators allege were the “brokers” who set up fraudulent bank and money-service accounts to facilitate the laundering of funds from victims’ accounts worldwide. They then used money service bureaux and other methods to transfer an alleged $6m in proceeds to co-conspirators.
Prosecutors claim the conspiracy was responsible for the attempted theft of another $40m.
During the course of arrests, suspects are alleged to have attempted to destroy evidence linking them to the conspiracy. Investigators believe that a number of suspects have fled to Nigeria.
Hanna said: “This case is part of our ongoing efforts to protect Americans from fraudulent online schemes and to bring to justice those who prey upon citizens and businesses … We have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks that use BEC schemes, romance scams and other frauds to fleece victims.”
US officials acknowledged the assistance of a number of agencies, including the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
In July it was reported that Surrey’s crime commissioner, David Munro, lost £4,000 in an online Nigerian scam. He called for the home secretary to tackle cyber crime nationally, with the NCA coordinating efforts instead of local forces. A report published by UK Finance said £1.2bn was lost to fraud and online scams in 2018.
Earlier this month, three family members from Greenwich, south London, were sentenced by Woolwich Crown Court to a total of more than 16 years’ imprisonment for their involvement in an international money laundering conspiracy run by a Nigerian criminal gang.
Okemiorukaye Nakpodia, 56, was jailed for six and a half years, Esther Nakpodia, 35, for two and a half years and Unuakpotovo Nakpodia, 46, to seven years, seven months. The group are said to have operated telephone and email scams between 2007 and 2015 on behalf of their Nigeria-based brother-in-law Augustus Bemigho-Eyeoyibo.
The CPS said that Bemigho-Eyeoyibo was the leader of the banned Black Axe crime syndicate, which operates in Nigeria and across the world. The gang have been linked to organised crime including murder, rapes, extortion and drug trafficking.
According to the CPS, Unuakpotovo Nakpodia controlled fraudulent bank accounts, receiving more than £700,000 of suspicious payments from 65–70 unconnected parties in 16 different countries.
Okemiorukaye Nakpodia received nearly £50,000 in suspicious payments from third parties in three different countries.
In an effort to show the world that Nigeria is taking the matter of cyber crime seriously, Shehu said: “The government will generate and ask for new laws from the National Assembly. There will be new executive orders that will block some of these loopholes that have been exploited by our fellow countrymen to go out there and embarrass and black paint (our) country.”
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