Sandton 'fraud kingpin had biometric information deleted from prison'
Nigerian “fraud kingpin” James Aliyu allegedly had biometric information linking him to a fake identity, that of Msweli Velenkosini, deleted on the home affairs national identification system (Hanis) from his prison cell.
After a TimesLIVE Investigation, the home affairs department placed an official on precautionary suspension for allegedly deleting information linking Aliyu to the fraudulent identity.
This week, home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi instructed the department to conduct a “thorough investigation into this matter to determine if there are other instances of this nature”.
A source provided evidence that Aliyu was allegedly soliciting help from corrupt government officials using a cellphone he had access to in prison.
Aliyu faces extradition to the US, where he is wanted in connection with fraud relating to business email compromise and romance scams totalling R196m.
He was expected to start a bail bid shortly after his arrest on June 29, but things became complicated when an identity fraud case — for which he was arrested on August 22 2021 and which seemingly disappeared — came back to haunt him after the Hawks revived the case. It had been gathering dust at the Randburg police station.
Sources said they found it strange that Aliyu was released and the case against him withdrawn when there was prima facie evidence linking him to identity fraud.
Aliyu, a wealthy Sandton playboy who ran a prolific social media profile flaunting his riches, was arrested at his luxury home by Interpol agents.
His social media disappeared a day after he was taken into custody, but his unfettered reach did not end.
When TimesLIVE asked police why his 2021 identity fraud case had seemingly disappeared, spokesperson Col Dimakatso Sello said the case was struck off the roll to allow the investigator to acquire outstanding evidence.
“Once the investigation is done the docket will once again be referred to the senior state prosecutor for a decision,” Sello said.
That didn’t stop the Hawks from charging Aliyu when he appeared in court again on July 12.
A Nigerian organised crime insider told TimesLIVE the identity fraud case caused Aliyu to panic as it jeopardised his bail bid in his extradition case. He then requested from a corrupt official that his biometric information, including his fingerprints, be deleted from Hanis.
Asked for comment, his lawyer Rod Montana said the state had not made the allegation against his client in court.
“If and when they do make that allegation we’ll deal with it accordingly once the details are given to us,” said Montana.
The information would have been critical to linking Aliyu’s fingerprints to his fake South African identity, which is that of a 25-year-old Zulu man. The identity was also allegedly used to obtain a passport.
Whoever requested the information be deleted, however, made a huge miscalculation, setting Motsoaledi and home affairs on a war path.
Department spokesperson Siya Qoza told TimesLIVE someone did delete the fingerprints linked to the fake profile on Hanis.
“But whoever deleted them failed to understand that all the records are available in the department’s archives and they do not disappear forever simply because they are deleted on Hanis,” he said.
Qoza said the department would give law-enforcement officials access to the archived material.
“Second, because the department has experienced this type of corruption from officials in the past, it has moved away from accessing systems through passwords to accessing them via fingerprints in a system called Biometric Access Control Management (BACM),” said Qoza.
This means because officials had to use their fingerprints to register new identities, the system allowed them to uncover who conducted which transactions thereon.
“So whoever accesses our system to practise malfeasance will be identified immediately. The official who did this was identified and is on precautionary suspension,” he said, adding that the passport linked to the ID number has been cancelled.
“The department has also reported the fraudulent transaction to Interpol, in line with the memorandum of understanding signed on July 29 2022 relating to reporting lost and stolen passports to prevent their use anywhere else in the world. This is in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards,” Qoza said.
“Minister Motsoaledi has instructed the department to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter to determine if there are other instances of this nature.
“This is in line with the minister’s commitment to ensuring that no stone is left unturned in the fight against corruption,” he said.
According to law-enforcement sources and Nigerian organised crime insiders, Aliyu is a prominent Black Axe gang member.
Sources said he was also allegedly in direct contact with convicted Nigerian fraudster and Sandton nightclub owner and alleged fellow Black Axe member Abdul Olatunji who was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment by the Johannesburg specialised commercial crime court this year.
Aliyu is expected to launch a formal bail application in his extradition case in the Randburg magistrate's court on Tuesday.
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