The United States Department of Justice said on Thursday it has charged eight Nigerians with conspiring to engage in internet scams and money laundering from South Africa.

It said seven defendants out of the eight Nigerian nationals were leaders of the Cape Town Zone of the Neo-Black Movement of Africa, also known as the “Black Axe.”

They were charged with multiple federal crimes relating to internet scams which they perpetrated from South Africa.

“Perry Osagiede, aka Lord Sutan Abubakar de 1st, aka Rob Nicolella, aka Alan Salomon, 52; Enorense Izevbigie, aka Richy Izevbigie, aka Lord Samuel S Nujoma, 45; Franklyn Edosa Osagiede, aka, Lord Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela,  aka, Edosa Franklyn Osagiede, aka Dave Hewitt, aka, Bruce Dupont, 37; Osariemen Eric Clement, aka, Lord Adekunle Ajasi, aka, Aiden Wilson, 35; Collins Owhofasa Otughwor, aka, Lord Jesse Makoko, aka, Philip Coughlan, 37; and Musa Mudashiru, aka Lord Oba Akenzua, 33; all originally from Nigeria, are charged by superseding indictment with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, spanning from 2011 to 2021,” Acting US Attorney Rachael A Honig for the District of New Jersey said.

“One defendant remains at large.”

The statement also said Perry Osagiede, Franklyn Osagiede, Clement, and Izevbigie were also charged with wire fraud, while Perry Osagiede, Franklyn Osagiede, and Otughwor were charged with aggravated identity theft.

“Toritseju Gabriel Otubu, aka Andy Richards, aka Ann Petersen, 41, also originally from Nigeria, is charged by separate indictment with wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering conspiracy, spanning from 2016 to 2021,” said Mr Honig.

The US Justice Department also said documents filed in the cases showed that, ‘Perry Osagiede, Izevbigie, Franklyn Osagiede, Clement, Otughwor, and Mudashiru (the Black Axe defendants) were all leaders of the Neo-Black Movement of Africa, also known as “Black Axe,” an organisation headquartered in Benin City, Nigeria, that operates in various countries.

The Black Axe, it explained, is organised into regional chapters known as “zones,” and the defendants were all leaders within the Cape Town, South Africa, Zone.

The statement noted that Perry Osagiede founded the Cape Town Zone of Black Axe and worked as its zonal head, along with Izevbigie.

“The Black Axe defendants and other members of Black Axe took part in, and openly discussed, fraud schemes amongst their membership,” Mr Honig, said.

“From at least 2011 through 2021, the Black Axe defendants and other conspirators worked together from Cape Town to engage in widespread internet fraud involving romance scams and advance-fee schemes. Many of these fraudulent narratives involved claims that an individual was travelling to South Africa for work and needed money or other items of value following a series of unfortunate and unforeseen events, often involving a construction site or problems with a crane.

“The conspirators used social media websites, online dating websites, and voice over internet protocol phone numbers to find and talk with victims in the United States while using a number of aliases.

“The conspirators’ romance scam victims believed they were in romantic relationships with the person using the alias and when requested, the victims sent money and items of value overseas, including to South Africa. Sometimes, when victims expressed hesitation in sending money, the conspirators used manipulative tactics to coerce the payments, including threatening to distribute personally sensitive photographs of the victim.

“The conspirators used the bank accounts of victims and individuals with US-based financial accounts to transfer the money to South Africa. On certain occasions, the conspirators convinced victims to open financial accounts in the United States that the conspirators would then be permitted to use themselves. In addition to laundering money derived from romance scams and advance-fee schemes, the conspirators also worked to launder money from business email compromise schemes. In addition to their aliases, the conspirators used business entities to conceal and disguise the illegal nature of the funds.”

The documents also revealed that Otubu also engaged in romance scams and used the victims of those scams to obtain money and to launder the proceeds of business email compromises back to South Africa.

He was also said to have conspired with an individual identified in the criminal complaint as Co-conspirator 1, who was a founding member and leader of the Cape Town Zone of Black Axe.

“The wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum term of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000,” said the Justice Department.

“The money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greatest.

” The aggravated identity theft charges carry a mandatory term of two years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed on a defendant.

The seven defendants had been arrested by the South African Police Service and they had their initial appearances in South Africa and are awaiting extradition to the United States on these charges.

Both cases are before US District Judge Michael A Shipp in Trenton federal court.

“Americans are too often victimised by criminal organisations located abroad who use the internet to deceive those victims, defraud them of money, and, many times, persuade the victims to wittingly or unwittingly assist in perpetuating the fraudulent schemes,” the department added.

“The public should be on guard against schemes like these. And, more importantly, anyone thinking of engaging in this kind of criminal conduct should understand that the US Attorney’s Office and our partners will find them and bring them to justice, no matter where they are.”

Also speaking on the matter, the Assistant Director, US Secret Service Office of Investigations, Jeremy Sheridan noted that transnational organised criminal networks continued to victimise US citizens and threaten the financial infrastructure of the United States.

“The Secret Service, alongside our partner agencies, works tirelessly in its global investigative mission to dismantle these groups and arrest those who lead them,” he said.

“We are proud to be a part of the international law enforcement mission to combat all forms of financial crimes and thank all those involved in this investigation. The US Secret Service extends its gratitude to the US Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service for its assistance.

“The charges and allegations contained in the indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

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