Two South African brothers, Raees and Ameer Cajee, recently vanished along with an estimated R51 billion in Bitcoin from their cryptocurrency investment platform Africrypt.
Details are now emerging, including extravagant lifestyles of the brothers and family members who are allegedly owed money from the scheme.
Africrypt Cryptocurrency Investments was founded in 2019 by Raees and Ameer Cajee, promising returns of around 10% per month.
In an interview in December 2020, the brothers spoke about “hard work, ethics, morals, and responsibilities” to make their new business work.
They discussed launching the first AI-driven trading platform in Africa, setting up offices in Hong Kong and South Africa, and developing their own hybrid blockchain to launch the cryptocurrency token, Africoin.
They even claimed international recognition for “safely exposing individuals and institutions to the cryptocurrency market.
“The vision for Africrypt has always been to develop the first African cryptocurrency-focused bank, providing decentralised finance to the people who need it most, giving easy access to capital for young entrepreneurs, and stimulating growth and prosperity,” they said.
Four months after this interview was published, the brothers claimed the company was hacked and all its Bitcoin holdings were stolen.
Investors were informed that client wallets and nodes were all compromised and that Africrypt was halting operations.
They were also discouraged from instituting legal proceedings as it would delay the process to get the money back.
Within days after this announcement, the Cajee brothers disappeared along with the billions in Bitcoin they were responsible for.
Citing an analysis by Hanekom Attorneys, Moneyweb reported that the eye-watering amount of roughly $3.6 billion (R54 billion) worth of bitcoin was stolen.
Bloomberg later reported that around 69,000 bitcoin was taken in the heist.
Zakira Laher, their cousin and former director at Africrypt, told Business Insider their family don’t know where they are or what happened to the money.
Laher says she was only peripherally involved and drew no benefit from Africrypt. She even claimed that she is owed money by the company.
She added that the Cajee brothers “were living an extravagant, flashy lifestyle” that could not have been funded by a startup.
Darren Hanekom, founder at Hanekom Attorneys is now investigating Africrypt on behalf of investors in the platform they represent.
Hanekom Attorneys’ clients are a small group of investors who put a minimum of R1 million each into Africrypt.
Africrypt was marketed as a way to connect banks, payment providers, and digital asset exchanges to make transfers seamless.
Investors gave money to Africrypt in search of very high returns — above 10% per month.
Commenting on the investigation, Hanekom said it is not only Bitcoin that has disappeared from investors’ wallets. It also extends to swaps into other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum.
“The investigators are not only looking for Bitcoin. They also need to follow suspected conversions into other cryptocurrencies,” he said.
Hanekom said they do not know how much cash was put into the Africrypt scheme as the investigation is still in its infancy.
Some good news is that the business did not only function on Bitcoin deposits. There was also a fiat currency component to it which can be traced through the banking system.
Brandon Topham, divisional executive for investigations and enforcement at Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA), said Africrypt came to their attention a while ago.
The FSCA was looking at a way in which it can get involved, but when liquidation proceedings against Africrypt started, it took the urgency away.
“It is always our first objective to stop people from losing money where we can,” he said.
In a press statement, the FSCA said they continue to investigate complaints about indications of whether or not a financial product or service was offered to the public.
Should this be the case, Africrypt would have been required to be registered with the authority.
“At this stage, we have only found evidence of crypto-asset transactions. Currently, crypto assets are not regulated in terms of any financial sector law in South Africa,” it said. “Consequently, the FSCA is not in a position to take any regulatory action.”
The FSCA said Africrypt was offering exceptionally high and unrealistic returns akin to those offered by unlawful investment schemes commonly known as Ponzis.
“The public is urged to understand that unrealistic high returns suggest that the investment scheme is likely to be fraudulent.”
Topham said people at the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and South African Revenue Service (SARS) would be investigating this scheme.
Topham doubted that the story about Africrypt being hacked is true. “Even if it is true, the money is gone,” he said.
“I don’t see much chance of investors getting money back. It is, however, still early days, and maybe the liquidators are lucky,” he said.
He added that around 60% of Bitcoin from all illicit transactions end up in wallets in two exchanges in Russia. “There has not been much success to get money out of those exchanges.”