Pretoria - A Nigerian citizen who is accused of being a member of the Neo Movement of Africa, also known as the “Black Axe”, was granted bail with strict conditions.
He was detained in jail after claims that the movement scammed romance victims in the US, via the internet and cellphones.
The applicant, who is not named as there are no formal charges against him, was provisionally arrested, along with several other people.
This was after the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Western Cape earlier received a request from the US in this regard, pending his possible extradition.
There has been no formal request for his extradition, and because a magistrate had refused him bail, he had to remain behind bars.
He successfully turned to the Western Cape High Court to appeal against the magistrate’s decision and to request bail. The court, on appeal, said there was, at best, a criminal complaint levelled against him, and it would be unfair to keep him in jail.
The bail proceedings were heard and conducted collectively in the lower court for him and eight of his co-accused. Of the eight, six have received formal requests for their extradition to the US.
No individual bail applications were heard for each co-accused, and accordingly, the evidence that was led by the prosecuting authority in the bail application was relied upon and applied to all the accused collectively – a procedure that was frowned upon by the high court.
The allegations against them include that they had unlawfully engaged in fraud, money laundering and racketeering through the internet.
Acting Judge GL Carter said there was no evidence that the lower court looked into the applicant’s personal circumstances before refusing him bail.
The judge added that the magistrate had erred in the notion that the applicant, if released on bail, could in all probability commit acts of violence or tamper with evidence because he was Nigerian by birth and possibly a member of the Black Axe.
He said the magistrate, in refusing bail, on several occasions made references to the applicant being part of the collective group of co-accused and alleged conspirators, and therefore concluded that they were all connected.
That, he said, while the prosecuting authority conceded that there was no evidence that the applicant was a member of the Black Axe, or that he had committed acts of violence as purportedly regularly undertaken by the Black Axe organisation.
The judge said the prosecuting authority was more concerned about the fact that if the applicant did flee South Africa, there was no extradition treaty between Nigeria and the US.
While the prosecution said the applicant had on two occasions returned to Nigeria while he was in South Africa, each time to bury one of his parents, to prove their point that he may flee, the judge pointed out that he had returned to South Africa both times.
In granting him bail, with strict conditions, Judge Carter said the applicant was arrested in October last year and there was no certainty about how long it would take, if ever, for the extradition inquiry and his possible transfer to the US.