Hawks spokesperson Katlego Mogale confirmed that the eight suspects were arrested for internet scams, money laundering and international wide-scale financial fraud. Picture: Supplied
Hawks spokesperson Katlego Mogale confirmed that the eight suspects were arrested for internet scams, money laundering and international wide-scale financial fraud. Picture: Supplied

Extradition application to the US pending for eight foreign men in 'romance scam'

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Oct 20, 2021

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Cape Town - The case against eight alleged leaders of the so-called “romance” syndicate, who appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, has been postponed until next Tuesday.

The eight, who allegedly preyed on victims, many of them vulnerable widows or divorcees, made their first appearance in court pending an extradition application by the US, where warrants for their arrests were issued.

Perry Osagiede, Enorense Izevbigie, Franklyn Edosa Osagiede, Osariemen Eric Clement, Collins Owhofasa Otughwor, Musa Mudashiru, Prince Ibeabuchi Mark and Toritseju Gabriel Otubu, were all calm as they appeared in court 16 yesterday.

The men, aged between 33 and 52, were arrested by the Hawks and US law enforcement in a massive operation in the city at dawn on Tuesday. The group was believed to be behind hundreds of thousands of “romance scams”.

Agencies involved in the joint operation included the FBI, US Secret Service, Interpol, the Hawks serious commercial crime investigation unit, Crime Intelligence, K9 unit, the National Intervention unit, the Special Task Force, the Tactical Operations Management Section, Criminal Record Centre and metro police.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the accused had been charged in the US with wire fraud conspiracy in violation of title 18, United States Code, Section (s) k1349, wire fraud in violation of title 18, United States Code, Section (s) 1343 and 2.

Ntabazalila said their charges included money laundering conspiracy in violation of United States Code Section(s) 1956(h), aggravated identity theft in violation of title 18, United States Code, Section(s) 1028A and 2.

He said the warrants for their arrest were issued in the US states of New Jersey and Texas.

"The accused’s alleged fraudulent activities caused at least $6.8 million (R98m) in losses to American citizens and others around the world," Ntabazalila said.

The group said they intended to apply for bail pending the extradition application. However, the State said it would oppose the bail application as it believed the accused were a flight risk, were likely to tamper with evidence electronically and some were in the country illegally as their passports had expired.

Cybersecurity expert Professor Bruce Watson, head of Information Science at Stellenbosch University, said most of the syndicates were well organised and had a well thought-through playbook, which actually worked.

“We’re not talking about some teenage hackers, but rather a form of organised cybercriminals,” he said.

Watson said the police needed to hire more technologically savvy officers to help deal with this type of crime.

“That is difficult because cybersecurity experts are expensive. If the police do not do this, we have a risk in South Africa of the further privatisation of cybersecurity, similar to what we already see with armed response companies partially taking on the role of the police force,” Watson said.

He said it was worth noting that people could do a lot to protect themselves, and the police could help to educate the population.

“A good public service campaign would help people to understand what they risk by putting personal information online, and how to look out for catfishing and other scams,” he said.

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