$46m fraud, money laundering: FG, EFCC back FBI’s operation against 77 Nigerians

•The law should take its course —Ohanaeze Ndigbo

Operatives of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may storm Nigeria any moment from now to effect the arrest of some of the 77 fraudsters indicted by the American security agency on Thursday for fraud, theft and attempted theft of $46m.

The Federal Government on Friday asked the indicted persons to voluntarily turn themselves in to the Americans.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chairman, Ibraham Magu, also expressed his commission’s readiness to collaborate with the American security agents on the matter.

A US grand jury had on Thursday unveiled a 252-count charge against the Nigerians accused of massive international fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

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The FBI said 14 of the suspects had been arrested while the remaining defendants were “believed to be abroad with most of them located in Nigeria.”

At a joint press conference in Abuja, on Friday, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission and the EFCC described the indictment of 77 Nigerians out of a total of 80 suspects worldwide as embarrasing vowing to put a stop to the “era of 419ers.”

Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, at the briefing said: “We have 77 Nigerians allegedly being involved in cybercrime in one fell swoop. We’ve stressed that these Nigerians are innocent until proven guilty. It is a court indictment, they will have to go to court, they have to be tried but we are demanding fair trial for them and good consular services for them.

“And we really need to affirm that they are not all Nigerians. But it is a very embarrassing situation to have, out of 80 people (suspects), 77 from Nigeria allegedly. Just last week, there was a cybercrime case with a young Nigerian too. When things like this happen, it dents the image of the country, however, that’s not who we are as a people, a few people committing crime should not tarnish the image of a country of 200 million people. So we’ll keep emphasizing that we are not going to accept the stereotype.

“However, we want the whole world to see that we are doing something about cybercrime; that’s why we are here at the EFCC to say Nigerians in the Diaspora count on you to tackle cybercrime effectively. So, we hope that EFCC will ensure that even those ones in Nigeria will not be supported. We said just go voluntarily if they need you and I’m sure Nigeria will support their extradition if they so ask.

“So, Mr. Chairman, we just want you to reassure the world that we are not a nation of 419ners because we have an EFCC that is doing everything possible to put a stop to the menace.

“The commission will be working with the EFCC to have a special desk to tackle cases like this whether it is about fraud or any other related issue. So, we have a desk with EFCC for Nigerians in the Diaspora to complain to whether you’ve been cheated or otherwise and I’m sure EFCC can provide those answers to this problem,” she said.

In his own remarks, the EFCC chairman declared that his commission would collaborate with the FBI to apprehend the culprits.

“It is very sad that the era of this 419ers is coming back. I remember we worked with the American FBI particularly in Lagos and its environment in an operation tagged ‘Wire-Wire’. They (FBI) mentioned that we were one of the agencies that actually participated in the operation and it was very successful.

“But to come out with the list of these 77 Nigerians is very unfortunate. Meanwhile, it is not that we are not doing anything here; we are working and reenergizing to storm their hideouts. We’ll also cooperate with our partners. Last time, we were in Ghana because when the heat was on them, most of them were operating from Ghana. We’ll cooperate with our partners to check the menace of Yahoo Boys because it is a borderless crime because you cannot do it alone. So, I’m happy that the Americans participated in the operation.

“I also want the media people to help us tell Nigerians because some people don’t still believe that the activities of these Yahoo Yahoo Boys are still strong. We have a situation where we have Mothers of Yahoo Yahoo Association, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of that. Whenever we arrest their children, they’ll gather around our offices pleading for the release of their children. So, I want you to help us sensitize Nigerians so that people will frown at the menace of 419.

“When you go outside this country, the search exercise they subject you to the moment they realize you are a Nigerian is humiliating. So, if we don’t address this and allow the activities of the 419ers to resume, it will be bad.

“For us at the EFCC, we’ll continue to cooperate with both within and outside Nigeria to stop this menace. I want you to give us information and we’ll raid all their hideouts.

“We’ll cooperate with other stakeholders and other law enforcement agencies in this country and outside the country like the FBI and the NCA and other law enforcement agencies in the neigbouring countries to make sure we deal with this issue.

“We will also deal with any Nigerian who connive with other Nigerians just like this to defraud. We are on the watch-out, we will not leave any stone unturned.”

Asked if the EFCC had been contacted by the US Government or the FBI, Magu said: “We have not been contacted but they have acknowledged our participation in their release. I don’t have the details now in respect of the arrest,” Magu said.

Earlier in a statement, Dabiri-Erewa, while stressing that the accusation did not mean guilt, said, “to clear their names,” those “accused in Nigeria” should surrender to the FBI.

“The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission is deeply concerned about the news of the arrest of 80 persons, mainly Nigerians, in various parts of the US, being accused in separate FBI cases of massive email fraud and money laundering. Prior to this, Valentine Iro and Chukwudi Christogunis Igbokwe were arrested in Los Angeles, while Obinwanne Okeke was arrested in Virginia.

“We acknowledge the fact that accusation does not mean guilt, and we hope that all the accused will be given fair and speedy trial. We also ask those accused in Nigeria to voluntarily turn themselves in to American authorities to clear their names, without which the Nigerian government should extradite them if relevant international treaties between the two governments are involved.

“While such actions ultimately have negative effect on the image of the country, the commission however reiterates as it has always done, that the actions of a few Nigerians involved in criminal activities are not and can never be what the majority of Nigerians represent. We advise and we continuously resist any stereotyping of Nigeria and Nigerians generally.

“The commission will continue to monitor the case closely,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the pan-Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said that despite the high number of Igbo youths arrested in the with other Nigerians for money laundering and fraud, the law should take its course.

The National Deputy Publicity Secretary of the group, Chuks Ibegbu, said: “Anybody that runs foul of a country’s law should bear the consequences. However, the US government should get in touch with Nigeria authorities and be fair in their approach.

“Blame our politicians for the desperation and criminality of our people in foreign land. If our economy is good and our leaders are doing well, I do not see any reason for our youths to go to foreign land to commit fraud.

“There is the need for our leaders, especially those in government, to create an enabling environment for investments so that our jobless youths are engaged in gainful employment.

“Our power sector is poor and many industries are not surviving. The best option is to restructure this country for healthy competitions.

“If our economy is buoyant, restiveness among the youths will be reduced, consequently, the idea of criminality among Nigerians, both at home and abroad, will also be minimised.”

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