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Interpol arrests another alleged Black Axe member in Johannesburg

09 December 2021 - 16:39
The logo associated with the Black Axe mafia globally.
The logo associated with the Black Axe mafia globally.
Image: Source

The law-enforcement crackdown on the Black Axe organised crime group saw another alleged member of the organisation being nabbed by Interpol in Douglasdale, Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

The Nigerian was arrested in connection with an FBI investigation into so-called romance scamming. Sources said he was arrested on Tuesday afternoon at his Douglasdale residence on charges of fraud, money laundering and identity theft.

SAPS spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo confirmed that Isaiah Uwadiegwu Okere, 39, was arrested on December 7. He said Okere was wanted in the US on counts of  conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy of money laundering, and aiding and abetting money laundering.

Naidoo said Okere appeared in the Randburg magistrate's court on Wednesday, and the case was remanded to December 15 for a bail application. Sources said there would likely be an extradition process for Okere to be tried in the US.

The arrest brings to nine the number of alleged Black Axe members arrested in SA this year.

On October 19 a huge police operation in Cape Town saw the arrest of six alleged leaders of the Black Axe, also called the Neo Black Movement of Africa according to a US indictment.

Among them were the Black Axe Cape Town zone’s alleged founder, Perry Osagiede, 52, its alleged current leader Enorense Izevbigie, 45, and their “council of elders” — Franklyn Edosa Osagiede, 37, Osariemen Eric Clement, 35, Collins Owhofasa Otughwor, 37, and Musa Mudashiru, 33.

In a statement after the October arrests Hawks spokesperson Col Katlego Mogale said the men allegedly stole R100m from about 100 US victims.

However, their victims globally are believed to be in the thousands, with many South African women and businesses falling victims to online romance scams and business email compromise fraud costing the SA economy millions of rand.

Two more alleged Black Axe members who did not form part of the Black Axe leadership were arrested at the time.

Toritseju Gabriel Otubu, 41, was charged with fraud, identity theft and money laundering while another man, Prince Ibeh, was charged in connection with a separate fraud case.

A manhunt involving Interpol, the Hawks and the police is still under way for another alleged Cape Town Zone leader who evaded arrest in October.

“The operation was initiated based on the mutual legal assistance of central authorities of the US,” said Mogale.

In October the Sunday Times reported that since 2018, US agents and their Hawks counterparts have been gathering evidence of Black Axe's alleged involvement in scams — including online dating in which lonely women and men were fleeced out of their life savings, and a business email compromise scam — that led them to the men.

“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,” said acting US state attorney Rachael Honig in a statement after the October arrests.

“The suspects, all originally from Nigeria, are charged with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, spanning from 2011 to 2021,” the US justice department said, adding that four were also charged with “aggravated identity theft”.

Osagiede, Izevbigie, Franklyn Osagiede, Clement, Otughwor, Mudashiru, Otubu, and Ibeh  are expected to appear in the Cape Town magistrate's court tomorrow when arguments in their bail application are expected to begin.

They face extradition to the US and state prosecutors have warned that they still have access to assets that are out of reach of the authorities, which they would easily be able to access to flee SA should they be released on bail.