The Cape Town Magistrate’s Court has found the offences for which extradition to the US is sought for alleged members of the Black Axe romance scam syndicate, are extraditable.
NPA spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the court also found that the certificate that was issued by the US binds the court and there was enough evidence to prosecute them.
Perry Osagiede, Enorense Izevbiege, Franklin Edosa Osagiede, Osariemen Eric Clement, Collins Owhofasa Otughwor, Musa Mudashiru, Prince Ibeabuchi Mark and Toritseju Gabriel Otubu were arrested and charged with wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.
The State alleges the suspects, working as a collective, would contact potential victims by email or reach out to them on social media, including online dating websites.
“Using false identities and representations, the respondents and their co-perpetrators would convince victims they were in romantic relationships with the online personas they fabricated, which often purport to be engineers and managers working on a project in South Africa.
“The respondents would then sway their victims to send money directly or to permit others to send money through their financial accounts to South Africa,” said Ntabazalila.
“The State is applying for the extradition of the accused, but they are challenging the application and documents forwarded to South Africa seeking their extradition to America.”
In January 2022, all eight respondents appeared under one case number and were represented by one set of legal representatives.
“They raised a point in limine regarding the admissibility and authentication of documents from the US that the State is relying on for the extradition application, Ntabazalila said.
The court ruled in favour of the State in March 2022, with Otubu later applying to have his extradition hearing separated from the other respondents in the matter.
That application was granted and he then applied for the court to make a ruling as to how the principle of double criminality is to be applied in this extradition hearing. The court decided that since the ruling would affect other respondents, they should be allowed to address the court.
Ntabazalila said in dismissing their application, the magistrate found that the offences of wire fraud conspiracy in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section (s)1349; wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section (s) 1343 and 2, money laundering conspiracy in violation of Title, United States Code Section(s) 1956(h) and (4) aggravated identity theft in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section(s) 1028A and 2, to be extraditable offence.
In addition, the certificate issued in terms of section 10(2) of the Extradition Act by the US was found to comply with the provisions of the Extradition Act.
“In terms of the provisions of section 10(2) of the Extradition Act, the court found that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the respondents in the requesting State.
“The NPA welcomes the decision of the court and believes this is the first towards a successful extradition of the accused to the US where they will face the charges preferred against them in that country,” Ntabazalila said.