Eight individuals, including three Ghanaians, have been arrested for allegedly defrauding companies and citizens of the United States of America (USA) to the tune of $15 million.
Two of the suspects, both Ghanaians — Babatunde Martins, 62, and Maxwell Atugba Abayeta, alias Maxwell Peter, 26 — escaped to Ghana after allegedly committing the crime and have been arrested in Accra, awaiting extradition to the US to stand trial in the Western District of Tennessee.
The names of the five other suspects arrested in the US for playing various roles in the conspiracy are Javier Luis Ramos Alonso, 28, a Mexican residing in Seaside, California; James Dean, 65, of Plainfield, Indiana; Dana Brady, 61, of Auburn, Washington; Rashid Abdulai, 24, a Ghanaian residing in the Bronx, New York, and Olufolajimi Abegunde, 31, a Nigerian residing in Atlanta, Georgia.
According to a release published on the website of the US Justice Department, an eighth suspect, Bernard Emurhowhoariogho Okorhi, 39, a Nigerian who is said to be residing in Ghana, was yet to be arrested.
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The release commended Ghana’s Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) for collaborating with US officials to arrest some of the suspects.
Explaining the arrest further, an acting Assistant Attorney-General of the US, Mr John P. Cronan, said the suspects allegedly unleashed a barrage of international fraud schemes that targeted US businesses and individuals, robbing them to the tune of approximately $15 million.
The accused are said to have engaged in the acts since 2012.
The USA and its international partners are cooperating in a programme dubbed: “Operation Keyboard Warrior”, to disrupt and bring an end to online fraud perpetrated from Africa.
Other suspects, identified as Sumaila Hardi Wumpini, 29; Dennis Miah, 34; Ayodeji Olumide, Ojo, 35, and Victor Daniel Fortune Okorhi, 35, are on the run.
Using sophisticated anonymisation techniques, including the use of spoofed email addresses and Virtual Private Networks (VPN), the co-conspirators identified large financial transactions, initiated fraudulent email correspondence with relevant business parties and then redirected closing funds through a network of US-based money mules to final destinations in Africa.
Commonly referred to as business email compromise or BEC, this aspect of the scheme caused hundreds of thousands in loss to companies and individuals in Memphis, Tennessee.
Additionally, some of the Africa-based suspects who are yet to be extradited would be charged with perpetrating or causing to be perpetrated various romance, fraudulent-check, gold-buying, advance-fee and credit card scams.
Mr Coran gave an assurance that the US Department of Justice would continue to work with its international partners to aggressively disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises that victimised US citizens and businesses.
Commenting on the arrests, the Executive Assistant Director at the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Mr David Resch, said the indictment of persons caught in cyber fraud continued to demonstrate the commitment of the FBI to work with its partners around the globe “to disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises that target Americans and their businesses”.
“This should stand as a warning that our work is not over and that we will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners to put an end to these fraud schemes.
“I want to thank all the agents and analysts at the FBI, our partners at the Department of Justice and our Ghanaian partners at the Economic and Organised Crime Office for all their tireless work to continue to pursue this issue at every turn,” he said.
The FBI led the investigations
The FBI’s Transnational Organised Crime of the Eastern Hemisphere Section of the Criminal Investigative Division, the Major Cyber Crimes Unit of the Cyber Division, the Legal Attaché in Accra and the International Organised Crime Intelligence and Operations Centre all provided significant support in the case, as did Ghana’s EOCO, INTERPOL Washington, the US Marshals Service and the US Attorney’s Offices of the Northern District of Georgia, the Western District of Washington, the Central District of California, the Southern District of New York and the Northern District of Illinois.