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Americans want Black Axe scammers arrested in Cape Town to stand trial in US

20 October 2021 - 18:24
The logo associated with the Black Axe mafia globally.
The logo associated with the Black Axe mafia globally.
Image: Supplied

Extradition and the possibility of 42 years in a US federal prison loom for alleged Nigerian mafia members arrested in Cape Town on Tuesday morning.

A huge task force consisting of Hawks and US law-enforcement members simultaneously raided several addresses in Cape Town.

According to a press statement by the US department of justice (US DOJ), Perry Osagiede, the founder of Black Axe in Cape Town, otherwise known as the Neo Black Movement of Africa Cape Town Zone, was among those arrested in the raids on Tuesday.

The 52-year-old Osagiede, or “Lord Sutan Abubakar de 1st”, as he was known in the group, allegedly founded the notorious group’s Cape Town chapter.

According to a BBC investigation the Black Axe has been banned as a cult in Nigeria where it started in the 1970s as an anti-colonial student organisation. Authorities around the world have cracked down on the group’s illicit activities.

Sources have described the Black Axe as a highly organised global organisation which operates across borders. In Italy it has managed to push the Italian mafia out of former strongholds and is allegedly associated with drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Osagiede and 45-year-old Enorense Izevbigie, or “Lord Samuel S Nujoma” as he was known in the Black Axe, allegedly headed the seven-man leadership core of a much larger crime network.

According to the US DOJ the group has been running a sophisticated online dating scam and business email compromise scam operation from SA since at least 2011, raking in hundreds of millions of rand from victims across the globe.

The other five leaders arrested were 37-year-old Franklyn Edosa Osagiede known as “Lord Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela” to the Black Axe, 35-year-old Osariemen Eric Clement or “Lord Adekunle Ajasi”, 35-year-old Egbe Tony Iyamu or “Lord Aminu Kano”, 37-year-old Collins Owhofasa Otughwor or “Lord Jesse Makoko”, and 33-year-old Musa Mudashiru or “Lord Oba Akenzua”.

“Seven leaders of the Cape Town Zone of the Neo Black Movement of Africa, also known as “Black Axe,” and an eighth man who conspired with a Black Axe leader, were charged with multiple federal crimes relating to internet scams they perpetrated from SA,” read the US DOJ statement.

It said the men were all originally from Nigeria and “are charged by superseding indictment with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, spanning from 2011 to 2021”.  

“Perry Osagiede, Franklyn Osagiede, Clement, Izevbigie, and Iyamu are also charged with wire fraud. Perry Osagiede, Franklyn Osagiede, Iyamu, and Otughwor are charged with aggravated identity theft,” read the statement. An eighth person who is not part of the leadership structure was also arrested in connection with the case.

“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,” the statement read.

“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 SA. Otubu 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 statement read.    

“Perry Osagiede, Izevbigie, Franklyn Osagiede, Clement, Iyamu, 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,” read the statement.

The US DOJ said the Black Axe is organised into regional chapters known as “zones” and that the accused were all leaders in the Cape Town, SA, Zone.

“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 among their membership,” read the statement.

The US DOJ said that from at least 2011 through 2021 the alleged Black Axe members and other conspirators worked together from Cape Town to engage in widespread internet fraud involving romance scams and advance-fee schemes involving intricate narratives to lure and manipulate victims.

“Many of these fraudulent narratives involved claims that an individual was travelling to SA for work and needed money or other items of value after a series of unfortunate and unforeseen events, often involving a construction site or problems with a crane,” said the statement.

“The conspirators used social media websites, online dating websites, and voice over Internet Protocol (Voip) phone numbers to find and talk to victims in the US,  while using a number of aliases,” the statement read.

Their victims believed they were in a romantic relationship with the person using the fake profiles, and when requested their victims in the US sent money and valuable items overseas, including to SA.

“Sometimes, when victims expressed hesitation in sending money, the conspirators used manipulative tactics to coerce the payments, including by threatening to distribute personally sensitive photographs of the victim,” read the statement.

The US DOJ further alleged that the accused used the bank accounts of victims and individuals with US-based accounts to transfer money back to SA.

“On certain occasions, the conspirators convinced victims to open financial accounts in the US that the conspirators would then be permitted to use themselves,” read the statement.  

“In addition to laundering money derived from romance scams and advance fee schemes, the conspirators also worked to launder money from business email compromises,” the statement read. “In addition to their aliases, the conspirators used business entities to conceal and disguise the illegal nature of the funds.”

According to the US DOJ the wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison while the money laundering charge carries another 20 years.   For aggravated identity theft the suspects will serve a mandatory term of two years in prison which must run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed on the accused.

“All eight defendants were arrested in SA earlier this morning (Tuesday) by the SA Police Service and are awaiting extradition to the US on these charges. Both cases are before District Judge Michael A Shipp in Trenton federal court,” said the US DOJ.

Acting US Attorney Rachael Honig warned the American public in the statement to be on guard against online scams like these.

“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,” she said.

“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,” said Honig.

The US Secret Service is believed to have been the Hawks’ key partner in the investigation and operation.

The Secret Service office of investigations assistant director Jeremy Sheridan warned international crime networks that the service and its overseas partners were working under the Organised Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force’s priority transnational organised crime investigation to disrupt and dismantle the highest level criminal organisations globally.

“Transnational organised criminal networks continue to victimise US citizens and threaten the financial infrastructure of the US,” he said.

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