Chioma Igbokwe And Lawrence Enyoghasu
Days after the Economic Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, vowed to fish out Nigerians indicted in the recent United States wire scam, Saturday Sun has learnt that most of the young men with questionable source of living are currently on the run. While many have gone underground, those with the means have fled to some West African nations and even beyond the sub-region to evade arrest.
On August 22 , a 252-count federal grand jury indictment charged 77 Nigerians for alleged involvement in a massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through a variety of fraud schemes and launder same through a Los Angeles-based money laundering network uncovered by the FBI.
The indictment alleges that the defendants and others used various online fraud schemes – including business email compromise (BEC) frauds, romance scams, and schemes targeting the elderly – to defraud victims out of millions of dollars.
While two defendants were already in federal custody on other charges, a few others were arrested last week, with the remaining suspects believed to be abroad, most of them located in Nigeria. The Nigerian government has however promised to assist FBI in extraditing those indicted.
Saturday Sun gathered that several big-time ‘Yahoo boys’ operating in Nigeria have since fled the country for fear that the FBI-backed EFCC investigation might affect them. They were said to have moved to neighbouring West African countries, especially Ghana and Gambia. Others are in South Africa while those who still have clean records have chosen to stay in Dubai till further notice.
Celebrity nightclubs worst hit
Worst hit by the decision of the ‘Yahoo boys’ to go underground are some of the celebrity night clubs in Lagos, Abuja and Owerri in Imo State which are usually filled with young men ready to spend millions in a night. These are safe havens for some of these fraudsters who are willing to spend more than a million naira on a bottle of wine.
Lamenting the low patronage, an attendant in a top nightclub in Victoria Island who spoke with Saturday Sun lamented that sales has fallen since the FBI-EFCC manhunt began last week. “Before the news broke, we used to make at least N5million every Friday night. Last Friday was the worst since this club was established. We could barely make up to N500, 000. There is panic everywhere; we need these Yahoo boys who spend money carelessly. The same thing happened to our club in Owerri, everyone has gone into hiding. It’s even worse over there because majority of our customers are visitors who stormed Owerri for the weekend.”
Why we have gone underground
One of the suspected fraudsters popularly known as Big Daddy who insists that he has since retired told Saturday Sun that he decided to run to Dubai in case someone mistakenly mentioned his name. “It’s Obiwanne Okeke’s fault that things went bad for everybody. As soon as they caught him, he started running his mouth and he overdid it. What others were doing is to allow them to investigate your matter and then the rest will help you from outside. They would have contributed money and hire the best lawyer that will help free him or at worst reduce his sentence. So many of us now stuck in Nigeria have been arrested before and endured it till we were deported. Your resources will be protected. The truth is that America cannot jail you if they do not have concrete evidence against you and most importantly the quality of the lawyer that is helping out is very important. With the current situation that guys are in over there, no one is willing to help.”
On why he fled the country, Big Daddy said, “I was not involved in any of the issues they raised but I am an Imo boy and I know so many of them. We have done deals in the past and anything can happen. These boys out of desperation can mention anyone’s name. It’s better to stay away and monitor things from afar. I have a clean record that is why I decided to go to Dubai.”
An ex-convict, Okechukwu Madu who was recently deported to Nigeria after serving five years jail term in UK over internet fraud said that EFCC will take advantage of the FBI alert to arrest small-time players. “In Nigeria, if you know your game, EFCC will not arrest you. We have gotten information on the people that they are looking for and most of them are out already. If you hear that they caught anyone, it must be these small-time players. The big boys are the investors and most of them are spread across African countries; all they need is a computer and link to their accomplices.
“I am not afraid because I have served my term in UK before they deported me. Some of us were lucky that we invested in the country, which is why despite all the money that they took from us, we can still survive in this country. In fact, Nigerian government should be happy that we bring this money back to Nigeria, unlike some of them who prefer to buy houses and deposit our money in foreign countries. This matter will surely end one day, the secret is to try not to be caught.”
Another suspected fraudster based in Kenya, Cosmos Gee lamented that since the news broke last week, some of his friends have been unreachable. “My brother who stays in Germany told me that they are actually hiding, the town is hot for them. There is also panic in other African countries like Kenya, this is because some of these Nigerian men travelled with Kenyan passport. Kenyan government is not strict on Nigerians who come over there and seek to become citizens of the country.”
We’re on their trail – EFCC
Reacting to the development, a top official of EFCC said, “We’re on their trail. We’ve increased surveillance at all the country’s borders and have enlisted Interpol’s service. We will get these fraudsters and Yahoo boys because we have deployed different technologies. Abuja and Lagos are under heavy surveillance.
“We’re also in the South South because we believe anywhere you have higher institutions is a natural hub for Yahoo business. We’ve spread dragnets everywhere. The entire country is under surveillance. Raids are coming, but they would be covert. If they like, they should run to anywhere in the world, in due course, we will get them.”
Also speaking, EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren said, “the Commission is not aware of any escape of suspected fraudsters from the country. The EFCC more than ever before is resolute in its determination to wipe out all vestiges of scam, be they advance fee fraud or cyber crime. The Commission has the capacity to track and smoke out any Internet fraudster within Nigeria’s borders. We also have partnerships with international law enforcement organisations including the Interpol. Escape from Nigeria is no guarantee of freedom from justice.”
A suspected internet fraudster wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was recently arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and paraded in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.
Sharu Isyaku, EFCC zonal head in Kwara, told reporters “the 36 years old suspect had benefitted about N60 million from the loot via Western Union transfer.”
He said: “Just last three weeks, the US authority had written to us for assistance in tracking and possible arrest and prosecution of two most wanted FBI suspects in Nigeria. The commission accedes to their request. The commission has been supportive of the activities of the FBI and every other foreign counterpart whose responsibility is similar or analogous to ours. ”
He further revealed that the commission had traced four properties linked to some cybercrime suspects in choice areas to Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State.
The properties include a supermarket and plaza put in the region of between N800 million to one billion Naira. “Within seven months of our operation, the Ilorin zonal office has independently arrested over 58 suspected internet fraudsters, secured conviction of 25 and got forfeiture of their exotic cars and money running into millions of Naira to the Federal Government,” he said.