Eight Nigerians, aged 33 to 52, were detained in Cape Town early today on suspicion of Internet scams, money laundering, and large-scale financial fraud on a global scale.
According to sources, those arrested were members of the Black Axe, a criminal organization that preys on widows and divorcees and defrauds them of millions of dollars.
Those arrested were six leaders and the founder of the Cape Town chapter of the Black Axe organized crime organisation.
Hundreds of thousands of romantic scams are thought to have been perpetrated by the gang.
The operation includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Secret Service (USSS) Investigations, and Interpol, according to Colonel Katlego Mogale, a spokesperson for South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), popularly known as Hawks.
Hawks Serious Commercial Crime Investigation section, Crime Intelligence (CI), K9, National Intervention unit, Special Task Force (STF), Tactical Operations Management Section (TOMS), Criminal Record Centre, and Cape Town Metro police all aided them.
Mogale claimed the operation was started based on Mutual Legal Assistance from Central Authorities of the United States of America, which was sanctioned by the Republic of South Africa, according to sources from South Africa.
She said all of the individuals were apprehended in the early morning hours of Tuesday during a large-scale operation and would be prosecuted with a number of financial offenses, including conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud/mail and money laundering.
“The suspects in this investigation are alleged to have ties to a transnational organised crime syndicate originating in Nigeria,” she said.
The suspects are accused of preying on their victims, many of them were fragile widows or divorcees who were lead to feel they were in genuine romantic relationships but were duped out of their hard-earned money.
To discover and connect with their victims, the suspects used social media platforms and online dating services.
Business email compromise, in which email accounts are diverted in order to update banking details, is another tactic utilized by the suspects.
They used fictitious identities and trolled dating sites.
According to Mogale, once they had ingratiated themselves with their victims, they allegedly invented sob tales about why they needed money – taxes to release an inheritance, necessary international vacation, terrible debt, etc. – and then took R100 million from their victims’ accounts.
She stated that the alleged crimes perpetrated by the suspects were personal to her.
This organization would target neighbors, parents, friends, and family members.
“The fraudsters intimidated and berated their victims, ruined their lives and then disappeared. We are confident that this investigation will have a significant impact on this region and beyond,” said Mogale.
The FBI estimates that more than 100 people lost more than R100 million in romance scams from 2011 till date.