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Joburg fraud syndicate accused who allegedly scammed US company appear in court

Seven suspects allegedly connected to a Johannesburg based online fraud syndicate appeared in the Palm Ridge Commercial Crimes Court following their arrests on Thursday.
Seven suspects allegedly connected to a Johannesburg based online fraud syndicate appeared in the Palm Ridge Commercial Crimes Court following their arrests on Thursday.
Image: Sourced

Seven suspects alleged to be part of a Johannesburg-based fraud syndicate made their first appearance in the Palm Ridge commercial crimes court on Friday.

The accused were named as Emmanuel Opeyemi Akindunmade, 42, Nomzamo Buthelezi, 25, Lerato Letsholo, 28, Ifeanyi Onyeama, 38, Olatunde Bada, 26, Vintam Magamba, 31, and Sunday Ajayi, 38. 

They are charged with fraud and money laundering. 

The group was arrested on Thursday after raids by the Hawks and the US Secret Service on several residences across Johannesburg. 

The Hawks-led operation comes after the suspects allegedly worked together to defraud a US based mental health institute out of R8m using a business email compromise (BEC) scam.

According to Hawks spokesperson Brig Thandi Mbambo, “The suspects’ apprehension emanates from an extensive investigation relating to business email compromise fraud scam allegations where approximately $500,000 (about R7.3m) was swindled from a US-based entity in April 2020 and thereafter transferred into different SA bank accounts.”

During proceedings in the Palm Ridge magistrate's court, six of the seven accused indicated they would be using the services of legal aid.

Accused three, Lerato Letsholo, told the court she would be seeking the services of a private lawyer. The matter was postponed to April 8, when the accused will be expected to apply for bail.

Sources with insight into the investigation told TimesLIVE the Johannesburg-based syndicate diverted money it allegedly stole to romance scam victims who acted as unwitting money mules.

The romance scam victims believed the source of the millions funnelled into their accounts was legitimate and they were asked to forward the money to accounts held by alleged syndicate members who used fake online identities to lure lonely women.

The syndicate allegedly bought luxury vehicles with the proceeds of their crimes.

Among the vehicles seized was a Mercedes-Benz G63 Brabus valued at more than R3m.

Seized vehicles included a Mercedes-Benz G Class Brabus valued at millions.
Seized vehicles included a Mercedes-Benz G Class Brabus valued at millions.
Image: Sourced

SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE understands the group was traced after authorities carried out the meticulous task of reviewing banking information to track money flowing across continents with some transactions dating back to 2018.

Hawks head Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya commended the work of the multidisciplinary team which led to the arrests.

“Organised criminal groups should know law enforcement agencies are collaborating on an international level to dismantle criminal networks,” said Lebeya.

These arrests are another knock to Nigerian organised crime groups operating sophisticated international fraud schemes from SA.

In October last year the Hawks raided properties and arrested eight people associated with notorious Nigerian organised crime group Black Axe. 

Six of those arrested in Cape Town were allegedly members of the Black Axe Cape Town Zone's “Council of Elders”. The arrests effectively decapitated the group in Cape Town by removing its top decision-making structure. 

This had repercussions for the Black Axe group globally due to the Cape Town Zone's significance as a springboard for Black Axe members into the rest of the world. 

The eight Cape Town suspects are expected to start court proceedings for a US extradition hearing after being denied bail by the Cape Town magistrate's court in December.

Another knock came when another alleged Black Axe member, Isaiah Uwadiegwu Okere, 39, was arrested in Douglasdale, Johannesburg in December. 

Another alleged Black Axe member, nightclub owner and suspected Midrand Zone leader, Abdul Olatunji, is also expected to be sentenced for BEC fraud on April 4 after his arrest by the Hawks in 2019.

TimesLIVE



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