Eight foreign nationals suspected of running Internet scams, money laundering, and international wide-scale financial fraud have been arrested in Cape Town in a joint operation led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United State Secret Service (USSS) Investigations, and Interpol.
The law enforcement agencies were provided with assistance from the Hawks Serious Commercial Crime Investigation Unit, SAPS Crime Intelligence (CI), K9, National Intervention Unit, the Special Task Force (STF), Tactical Operations Management Section (TOMS), Criminal Record Centre, and Cape Town Metro Police.
“All suspects were arrested during a large-scale operation in the early morning hours of today and will be charged with a variety of financial crimes, including conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud and money laundering,” said SAPS spokesperson Col. Katlego Mogale.
“The operation was initiated based on the mutual legal assistance from central authorities of the United States of America that was approved by the Republic of South Africa.”
Mogale said the suspects in the investigation were alleged to have ties to a transnational organised crime syndicate originating in Nigeria.
According to a report from The Sunday Times, the crime syndicate is the notorious Nigerian mafia-style organisation known as The Black Axe.
The organisation was banned in Nigeria over its links to criminal activity around the world.
Mogale said the suspects allegedly preyed on victims, many of whom were vulnerable widows or divorcees who were led to believe that they were in genuine romantic relationships but were scammed out of their money.
“The suspects used social media websites and online dating websites to find and connect with their victims,” he explained.
Once they had ingratiated themselves with their victims, they allegedly concocted sob stories about why they needed money — taxes to release an inheritance, essential overseas travel, crippling debt — and then siphoned money from victim’s accounts.
The FBI estimated that more than 100 people lost over R100 million rand in these romance scams from 2011.
The suspects allegedly also carried out business email compromises, where email accounts are diverted to change banking details and steal money meant for service or product providers.