Nigeria: Eight Alleged Nigerian Cultists Arraigned in S'africa Over Money Laundering, Others

21 October 2021

Seven alleged 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 South Africa, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced yesterday.

Perry Osagiede, 52; Enorense Izevbigie, 45; Franklyn Edosa Osagiede, 37; Osariemen Eric Clement, 35; Collins Owhofasa, 37; and Musa Mudashiru, 33; all originally from Nigeria, were charged for fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, spanning from 2011 to 2021.

One defendant remains at large.

Perry Osagiede, Franklyn Osagiede, Clement, and Izevbigie were also charged with wire fraud. Also, Perry Osagiede, Franklyn Osagiede, and Otughwor were additionally charged with aggravated identity theft.

Toritseju Gabriel Otubu, 41, also originally from Nigeria, was also charged for separate indictment with wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering conspiracy, spanning from 2016 to 2021.

"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," Honig 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.

"Transnational organised criminal networks continue to victimise US citizens and threaten the financial infrastructure of the United States, Secret Service Office of Investigations Assistant Director Jeremy Sheridan 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. The U.S. Secret Service extends its gratitude the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service for its assistance.

"Foreign nationals who think they can hide in another country or in cyberspace while preying on our citizens need to know one thing," Special Agent in Charge, George M. Crouch Jr. said. Crouch added: "The FBI has a global footprint and will use every resource available to protect the American people. The strong working relationship among our federal and international law enforcement partners allows us to reach across geographical boundaries.

"In other words, anyone who thinks they can avoid American justice simply by operating outside the United States should rethink their strategy."

According to documents filed in the aforementioned cases,

Perry Osagiede, Izevbigie, Franklyn Osagiede, Clement, Otughwor, and Mudashiru (the "Black Axe defendants") were all leaders of the Neo Black Movement of Africa, an organization headquartered in Benin City, Nigeria that operates in various countries.

The Black Axe is organised into regional chapters known as "zones," and the defendants were all leaders within the Cape Town, South Africa, Zone.

It was gathered that 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 amongst their membership.

From at least 2011 through 2021, the Black Axe defendants and other conspirators worked together from Cape Town to engage in widespread internet fraud involving romance scams and advance fee schemes, the documents revealed.

It stated that many of the fraudulent narratives involved claims that an individual was traveling to South Africa for work and needed money or other items of value following a series of unfortunate and unforeseen events, often involving a construction site or problems with a crane.

According to the documents, the conspirators used social media websites, online dating websites, and voice over internet protocol phone numbers to find and talk with victims in the United States, while using a number of aliases.

"The conspirators' romance scam victims believed they were in romantic relationships with the person using the alias and, when requested, the victims sent money and items of value overseas, including to South Africa.

"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.

"The conspirators used the bank accounts of victims and individuals with U.S.-based financial accounts to transfer the money to South Africa.

"On certain occasions, the conspirators convinced victims to open financial accounts in the United States that the conspirators would then be permitted to use themselves. In addition to laundering money derived from romance scams and advance fee schemes, the conspirators also worked to launder money from business email compromise schemes. In addition to their aliases, the conspirators used business entities to conceal and disguise the illegal nature of the funds," it stated.

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 South Africa.

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 wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum term of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. On the other hand, the money laundering conspiracy charge carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greatest.

The aggravated identity theft charges carry a mandatory term of two years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed on a defendant.

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