Pretoria - The South African woman arrested in connection with a multimillion-rand internet scam and due to be extradited to the US has a 2-month-old baby.
Rhulane Hlungwane, 23, was arrested earlier this week with 11 Nigerian citizens in connection with internet scams believed to have involved $300 million (R3.09bn). Her infant daughter, who is being breastfed, is with her in custody.
The child is believed to have been fathered by the scam’s alleged kingpin, Rasaq Aderoju Raheem.
The ring was bust by the US Immigration and Customs’ Homeland Security Investigations in collaboration with the Hawks.
Hlungwane was arrested in Sunnyside with Raheem, Femi Alexandra Mewase, Olufeni Obara Omoraka, Olandimenji Agelotan, Olesegin Segi Shanekan, Olasupu Odebunmi, Sesan Farin and Anouluwapo Segun Adegbemigun. They will remain behind bars until extradited.
They are accused of a transnational scam that included online dating scams, credit card fraud, shipping fraud and identity theft. Some of their accomplices, most of them Nigerians, were arrested in the US and Canada.
The group appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court earlier this week on charges of fraud and theft.
The Hawks and their US counterparts had apparently been monitoring the ring in Sunnyside for months, since before Hlungwane fell pregnant.
Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko said: “The child is currently with (Hlungwane) in the cells, because it is her human right to breast-feed the child. We have young children in prison cells, but they are released when they get older. It is up to her if she wants the child to go to the US with her.”
Centre for Child Law director Anne Skelton said most countries allowed mothers to be in prison with their small children.
“Normally, in an extradition or deportation case the child is taken along with the mother. It would be appropriate that the mother and child not be separated.
“In South Africa, mothers can keep their children until they are two years old or longer, depending on the circumstances. Different countries have different rules, but most of them allow children in for a certain period.”
Ramaloko said investigators were trying to check whether the 12 suspects were linked to other crimes in South Africa.
Last year, the Department of Social Development repatriated at least 16 children with South African mothers held in foreign prisons. Earlier this month, a 9-month-old baby born to a drug trafficker in a Brazilian prison was brought to South Africa.
Investigations into the alleged cyber crimes began after a Mississippi woman was sent a package by her suitor on an online dating site in 2011.
The suitor asked her to ship the package to Pretoria. Police found the package had been bought with stolen personal information and a fraudulent credit card.