SA fugitive caught in US private jet
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Cape Town - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is working with their US counterparts in opposing bail for accused IT fraudster and cryptocurrency entrepreneur Riccardo Spagni, who fled South Africa and attempted to evade a criminal trial.
His lawyers claim a series of “administrative errors and misunderstandings over an extended period of time” made their client believe he had been excused from attending court proceedings, as he was legally represented.
Spagni was recently arrested in the US, with an extradition process underway to have him brought back to the country to face the music.
As a former employee of Cape Cookies, as their IT manager between October 2009 and June 2011, it is alleged that Spagni intercepted invoices from another company relating to information technology goods and services it had supplied to Cape Cookies.
Investigation evidence indicates that Spagni received R 1 453 561.47, or roughly $99,185, as a result of his efforts to “defraud Cape Cookies”.
“Spagni knowingly submitted the falsified invoices to Cape Cookies’ finance department and fraudulently represented that they were true and proper records, expecting that the amount listed as due would be paid to the supplier reflected, and into the bank account detailed, on the invoice...The investigation revealed that the invoices did not contain the true bank account of Ensync but, rather, a bank account opened and controlled by Spagni,” court documents read.
Earlier this year SAPS issued a J50 warrant of arrest for the fugitive, aged 38, after he failed to appear in twice at the Cape Town Regional Court on fraud charges, which he had pleaded not guilty to, whereafter his trial was to commence.
“The investigation was concluded and the case was placed on the roll at the Cape Town Regional court. The accused has failed to appear twice for his court appearance and all efforts by the investigating officer to establish the whereabouts of the accused were futile,” SAPS had said.
Evidence was presented against Spagni and despite attempts to locate him at his home address and through family and friends, a warrant for his arrest was issued on April 19, 2021.
NPA spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila confirmed they had forwarded an Interpol request for “provisional arrest pending extradition”.
Spagni was arrested on July 21 on a private charter jet in Tennessee, bound for Mexico.
“The office was advised by the US Authorities that same day (July 21) that Spagni had been arrested at the Nashville Airport on a flight bound for Mexico. An extradition request will be submitted via the usual channels to the USA in due course. This office is currently assisting the US prosecutor who is opposing Spagni’s bail application in the US.
“Following the usual protocol, the court in whose area Spagni was arrested will have jurisdiction to deal with the request for extradition.That is the court in Nashville, Tennessee,” said Ntabazalila.
Enquiries to the Department of Justice were unanswered by deadline.
According to court documents, the US government said they were “executing its treaty responsibilities and acting at the request of the Government of South Africa” to detain Spagni who potentially faces up to 20 years imprisonment for his offences.
“In short, Spagni cannot overcome the strong presumption against bail in international extradition cases. Specifically, he cannot meet his burden of showing that he poses no risk of flight or danger to the community and that special circumstances exist warranting his release,” the document read.
The court ordered that Spagni be detained, submitting that he “poses a flight risk and is a potential danger to the community”, further adding that “he has avoided returning to the relevant court in South Africa, this Court has reason to surmise that he will continue trying to evade justice.”
“Additionally, Spagni is believed to have significant cryptocurrency assets that would enable him to flee. He reportedly lectures worldwide on topics relating to cryptocurrency, was the lead maintainer of Monero (a cryptocurrency project that aims to obfuscate the linkability of transactions), is believed to have significant crypto-assets, and reportedly has assets including a watch valued at $800,000,” court documents read.
In a Twitter post, Spagni’s attorneys, Duncan Okes Inc, issued a statement, saying: “Due to a series of administrative errors and misunderstandings over an extended period of time, our client was recently accused of allegedly failing to attend a court hearing, which he believed he was excused from, in that he was represented by an attorney on the day and was further resident in the USA, at the time, for business purposes.
“The purpose of the hearing in question was to schedule further court dates for the orderly hearing of the matter, as in the normal course, and nothing more. In accordance with court practice, it was accordingly appropriate that he be represented, as he was, on the day, by his attorney of record, i.e. to arrange further court dates,” the statement read.
Posting on behalf of her husband, Spagni’s wife, Saskia Spagni wrote his “business affairs will continue under the leadership of my partners”.