Cape Town -
Two Nigerian men are at the centre of an investigation into a 419 scam, which stretched as far as New Zealand, after they were arrested while allegedly operating from laptops in a hotel room in Cape Town.
Since the investigation is still ongoing, Directorate of Priority Crimes investigators have not yet put a figure on the alleged fraud, or the number of victims, according to papers before the Western Cape High Court.
What is evident, however, is that one single victim alone, an Australian woman who thought she was communicating with someone named Anthony Donald Caine, was allegedly conned out of about R1.9 million.
The men, Oluwaseye Ajibola Ogmechi and Pius Okunbor, are believed to have received a total of more than R9m from victims across the world.
The men are to appear in the Bellville Commercial Crimes Court later this month in connection with the allegations.
This week, however, they were served with court orders which the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) obtained to see their assets restrained in the event they are convicted, and a confiscation order granted.
It is an uncapped restraint order, which means there is no limit to the value of assets the AFU can attach, because the value of the alleged fraud has not yet been determined.
The papers in the restraint application offer a glimpse into some of the details uncovered by investigators.
According to investigator Gcobani Mgudlwa, the men and two others were arrested after the City of Cape Town’s Safety and Security Directorate was called to investigate a dagga smell emanating from a room in the Lagoon Beach Hotel in Milnerton.
When peace officer Nigel Kelly and the hotel’s security manager went into the room, however, they noticed three laptops and nine cellphones connected to the internet.
There was an incomplete message on the screen of one of the laptops requesting an electronic transfer of $35 000 (about R359 000).
Another screen reflected bank details and login details.
A green book on a table in the room contained descriptions of women from other countries.
The occupants claimed they didn’t know who the equipment belonged to.
The items were seized and the men arrested for possession of dagga.
After further investigation, documents similar to fictitious documents usually used by the perpetrators of advance-fee fraud were found on the laptops, Mgudlwa said.
Police also discovered that the hotel room was booked by a man who introduced himself as Allan, and who provided a yahoo e-mail account.
He claimed the room was for his girlfriend, Atlantis woman Abigail Pietersen. Pietersen, who is a respondent in the application, checked into the room on May 9.
Voluminous electronic records from Western Union, a well-known financial services provider, were obtained which showed that the defendants received large sums of money from victims, and were allegedly involved in a scam.
One of the documents received from Western Union was a money transfer completed by the Australian woman, Marie June Leicester.
Leicester gave police a statement in which she claimed she was swindled out of R1.93m between January last year and September this year by someone who used the name Anthony Donald Caine.
The name Caine was also included in several other documents obtained from Western Union, Mgudlwa said. He added that the evidence indicated the name Caine was used to perpetrate unlawful activity.
“According to my investigation experience, the modus operandi followed by the defendants in committing their unlawful activities resonates with the modus operandi of a fraudulent activity known as a Nigerian 419 scam.
“A 419 scam is committed by way of entering into simulated transactions with unsuspecting victims, whereby the perpetrator cons the victims by tricking them to believe that they are entering into a lawful transaction,” Mgudlwa said.
In a separate affidavit, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Gcobani Bam said there were reasonable grounds to believe that Ogmechi and Okunbor benefited from the alleged offences.
Their wives were cited as respondents, along with Pietersen and a close corporation linked to Okunbor, Emmanuel City Trading.
Judge André le Grange granted the order.
The men and their co-accused face charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, the contravention of the Electronic Communication and Transactions Act, and the unlawful possession of drugs.