First of three Johannesburg-based 'fraudsters' extradited to US

Aron Hyman Reporter
James Aliyu walks past his luxury Mercedes-Benz G63 SUV as he is taken into custody by Interpol officers.
James Aliyu walks past his luxury Mercedes-Benz G63 SUV as he is taken into custody by Interpol officers.
Image: Supplied

Three Nigerians who lived it up on a luxury estate on Johannesburg's West Rand now face the possibility of 20-year jail sentences in a US prison after allegedly stealing $6.3m (R116.3m) from businesses through sophisticated scams.

The US attorney’s office in the District of Maryland announced last month the first of the three alleged scammers, Kosi Goodness Simon-Ebo, 29, had been extradited to the US from Canada and was scheduled to appear in court on April 14 to face a federal indictment. 

But before escaping to Canada, Simon-Ebo lived a life of luxury, allegedly off the proceeds of crime in Johannesburg with James Junior Aliyu, 29, and Henry Onyedikachi Echefy, 31.

They lived in a luxury house in Ruimsig Country Estate which they allegedly used as their scamming headquarters.

Aliyu, who used the noms de guerre “Old Soldier” and “Ghost”, was arrested in Sandton last year at another luxury residence. 

Despite rumours, allegedly spread by Aliyu himself, that he is a free man, he remains behind bars and will be appearing in the Randburg magistrate's court later this month where he hopes to convince the court to grant him bail.

In 2021 Aliyu was arrested by the Hawks in Sandton on fraud charges relating to an allegedly fraudulent South African identity. 

SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE reported last year that after Aliyu’s arrest on the 2021 charges he was mysteriously released despite prima facie evidence he had defrauded a bank using the fake name Msweli Velenkosini to open a bank account. 

A TimesLIVE investigation found that after Aliyu’s arrest by Interpol last year he allegedly managed to have biometric information linking his fingerprints to his fake identity deleted from the department of home affairs’ national identification system (Hanis). 

After a TimesLIVE enquiry into the incident, the department placed an official on precautionary suspension for allegedly deleting information linking Aliyu to the fraudulent identity.

The fake ID James Aliyu allegedly used to open a bank account.
The fake ID James Aliyu allegedly used to open a bank account.
Image: Supplied

Law enforcement sources claimed Echefy and Simon-Ebo were both arrested in Canada. 

According to the US attorney’s office announcement on Thursday, the trio, along with alleged scammers based in the US state of Maryland, allegedly stole $6m (R110.8m) by illegally gaining access to business e-mail addresses and diverting payments to bank accounts they controlled.

They were charged with “conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering and for wire fraud and money laundering charges related to a business e-mail compromise (BEC) scheme with losses of more than $6m”.

“According to the seven-count indictment, from February 2016 until at least July 2017, the defendants conspired with others to perpetrate a BEC scheme,” read the announcement published on the US justice department’s website last month.

“Specifically, the indictment alleges the defendants and their co-conspirators, including co-conspirators residing in Maryland, gained unauthorised access to e-mail accounts associated with individuals and businesses targeted by the conspirators. 

“The co-conspirators then allegedly sent false wiring instructions to the victims’ e-mail accounts from 'spoofed' e-mails, which are e-mails with forged sender addresses, to deceive the victims into sending money to bank accounts controlled by perpetrators of the scheme, called 'drop accounts',” the statement read. 

According to the US authorities the group distributed their loot to hide the true ownership of the assets. 

They allegedly did this by, among other things, withdrawing cash (which would explain Aliyu’s lavish expenditure on top-shelf liquor in Sandton nightclubs as chronicled in his Instagram account under the handle “Oldsoldier”).

James Aliyu's Instagram account is filled with pictures of his exploits.
James Aliyu's Instagram account is filled with pictures of his exploits.
Image: Oldsoldier_

Other means of hiding their loot included laundering money by disbursing the stolen funds from drop accounts by direct transfers to other accounts, obtaining cashiers' cheques, and by writing cheques to other individuals and entities. 

“For example, defendant Aliyu is alleged to have made a $350,000 (R6.46m) wire transfer from one of the drop accounts in Maryland to an account he controlled in South Africa, knowing the funds were the proceeds of a crime and the transaction was designed to conceal the nature, source and ownership of those funds,” said the press statement.

“Finally, the defendants are charged with wire fraud, related to the BEC scheme. Specifically, Simon-Ebo is charged in three wire fraud counts involving $6,343,533.10 (R117m) in victim funds being wired to accounts controlled by conspirators,” the statement read. 

According to the statement, if convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud conspiracy, for the money laundering conspiracy and for each count of wire fraud. 

“If convicted, Aliyu also faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for money laundering,” it said.


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