The Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, yesterday said the agency had perfected strategies aimed at dismantling a trans-national criminal group that specialized on internet fraud.
The EFCC boss, who spoke at an Interactive Session with Stakeholders in Abuja, disclosed that the cryber-crime gang is currently operating in five continents.
He said the commission had in close cooperation with the Italian National Police as well as Spanish, Polish, English, Belgian, Georgian, Turkish and Cameroonian police, with the support of Europol and Interpol, and the coordination of Eurojust, carried out extensive investigations that resulted in the arrest of 62 individuals, seizure of 40,000 Euros, 30 smart phones, 10 tablets and 15 personal computers.
Magu narrated how a recent joint operation between the EFCC and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, code named, Operation Rewired, led to the arrest of many high-profile internet fraudsters.
He said the exercise which was meant to dismantle the network of organised criminal gang that specialize in Business Email Compromise schemes, designed to intercept and hijack wire transfers from businesses and individuals, resulted in the seizure of nearly $2.4 million, and the disruption and recovery of approximately $14 million in fraudulent wire transfers.
Revealing that the anti-graft agency had in October alone, recorded over 200 arrests of Internet fraud suspects in carefully coordinated operations across its offices, Magu, said the major talking point for the commission was the recent arrest of celebrated social media personality and alleged internet fraudster, Ismaila Mustapha also known as Mompha and his Lebanese accomplice, Hamza Koudeih.
He said the two suspects were picked up in Abuja and Lagos respectively, through credible intelligence which flagged the suspects as kingpins of Organized Cyber Syndicate Network, OCSN.
Magu said investigations revealed that Mompha operated over 52 bank accounts in Nigeria with which he purchased properties in Dubai.
The Acting EFCC Chairman further revealed that Mompha and his Lebanese friend cumulatively laundered over $33 billion using names of different firms.
“Five wristwatches valued at over N60 million were recovered from Mompha, at the point of arrest. Investigation has also revealed that he operated 51 bank accounts in Nigeria with which he acquired properties in Dubai and had laundered about N14billion through Ismalob Global Investments Limited. His accomplice, Koudeih, also has two firms namely: THK Services Limited and CHK properties Limited with which he has allegedly laundered about N19billion. Koudeih lives in a $5 million per annum suite at the Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower, Victoria Island Lagos.
“These arrests have further confirmed our commitment to the fight against corruption and economic crime and send a clear message to high end fraudsters that they can only run but cannot hide. Sooner than later, we will get them”, Magu added.
He stressed that the EFCC is also working closely with the Italian police in a program code-named Operation Triangle, which saw Italian police to check activities of the trans-national criminal group operating in all the 5 continents.
He said that following complaints from some foreign countries, the Commission undertook special collaboration with other law enforcement organizations, adding that some of the Nigerians mentioned in the infamous FBI list of cyber fraudsters have been tracked, arrested and are being prosecuted in courts across the country by the Commission.
“But more fundamental than these international collaborations is the sustained effort of the Commission to comprehensively tackle the menace of Internet related frauds in Nigeria. I am happy to report that we are recording series of breakthroughs with almost daily arrests of suspected fraudsters across the country.
“As many of you will recall, the EFCC was created due largely to the negative effect of the activities of fraudsters, especially a advance fee fraudsters, on the economy and image of our Nigeria. While the Commission was successful in tackling advance fee fraud, other forms of fraudulent activities have emerged, promoted by advances in telecommunications, with even greater impact on the economy and image of Nigeria.
“Many youths are involved in Internet fraud of different types, most often targeting foreigners, especially women, whom they defraud of large sums of money.
“The EFCC has been unrelenting in its effort to check the activities of these fraudsters, who, I must say, represent a tiny fraction of the population of our country.
“The effort to flush out all fraudsters continues. At the same time, we will sustain the tempo of vigorous prosecution of fraud cases in court. Indeed, fraudsters account for a huge percent of the 890 convictions that have been recorded by the Commission, this year. A number of assets have been seized while victims have also enjoyed restitution by order of court.
“But the battle is far from being won. The Commission requires the support of all stakeholders, especially the media, to help in sensitizing the youth who are the ones mostly involved in cyber crime, about the evil of Internet frauds on our economy and collective national image.
“The youth must learn the virtues of integrity and hard work as the path to sustainable wealth. They must realize that crime does not pay. Rather it will destroy their prospects and ruin their chances of decent living.
“For those who are remorseful, and prepared to turn a new leaf, the Commission is fully disposed to help in channelling their energies and cyber skills to positive venture. We are considering a policy that will help in the rehabilitation of convicted but repentant Internet fraudsters, to ensure that their skills are positively applied, in helping to build a better Nigerian society.
“I urge you all to join us in fighting cyber-crime and other forms of corruption. We need to change the negative narratives about Nigeria being a haven of fraudsters”, Magu added.