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US prosecutors charge 80 alleged members of $46 million online fraud and romance scam gang

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online fraud and romance scam gang

Prosecutors in the US have charged 80 members of a mainly Nigerian fraud and romance scam gang with scores of offences.

Members of the network, which is said to have been involved in the theft and laundering of millions of dollars, allegedly targeted mostly elderly victims in one of the largest cases of its kind ever seen in the US.

The 80 defendants were charged by a court in Los Angeles last week after police arrested 14 suspected gang members, 11 of whom were detained in the Los Angeles area.

As well as romance scams, the gang is also said to have carried out business email compromise frauds and several other schemes in which victims were convinced to hand over money under false pretences.

The two lead defendants, Valentine Iro and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, both Nigerian citizens living in the US, are said by prosecutors to have conspired with others in the US, Nigeria and other locations to set up bank and money service accounts to be used to receive funds conned out of the gang’s victims.

Iro and Igbokwe, who were among those arrested last week before charges were laid, stand accused of being involved in a series of scams that resulted in the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million of stolen funds.

In total, the wider conspiracy is said to have involved the attempted theft of at least an additional $40 million.

According to prosecutors, Iro and Igbokwe fraudulently set up and provided bank accounts, sometimes with the assistance of money mules, into which the proceeds of the network’s scams could be paid.

The pair are said to have taken a cut of the monies transferred as a commission for their services.

Paul Delacourt, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, commented: “Today’s announcement highlights the extensive efforts that organized criminal groups will engage in to perpetrate BEC schemes that target American citizens and their hard-earned assets.

“Billions of dollars are lost annually, and we urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims.

“The FBI is committed to working with our partner agencies worldwide to continue to identify these cyber criminals and to dismantle their networks.”

All 80 defendants said by police to have been involved with the fraud network have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money and aggravated identity theft.

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US court charges Saudi men with firearms trafficking offences in their absence

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US court charges Saudi men with firearms trafficking offences

Prosecutors in the US have charged three men from Saudi Arabia with illegally purchasing firearms parts worth an estimated $100,000 while in America on student visas and attempting to smuggle them back to their home country.

In a five-count indictment returned last week, Hatim Humeed Alsufyani, 36, and 27-year-old Mosab Alzahrani, both of whom previously resided in San Bernardino, California, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle goods out of America without obtaining the proper export licences.

Both men were also charged with counts of knowingly exporting weapons parts without a licence.

It is understood the pair are currently back in Saudi Arabia.

In a separate indictment, Mohammed Alabdulwahab, 30, who is also said to have lived in Los Angeles at the time the offences were committed, was charged with 15 counts of smuggling and 15 counts of knowingly exporting firearms parts from the US without first having obtained an export licence from the State Department.

Alabdulwahab is also thought to currently be living back in the kingdom.

Prosecutors allege that Alsufyani and Alzahrani plotted to traffic rifle barrels, rifle triggers and other items related to firearms out of the US to their home country in their checked luggage on flights from Los Angeles.

The pair are said to have falsely identified the firearms parts as “shower curtain rods” or “car parts” when passing through customs checks.

It is also alleged that Alabdulwahab got in touch with US-based firearms parts retailers in 2018 in order to buy parts for the purpose of illegally exporting them to Saudi Arabia.

Alsufyani could face a maximum penalty of 65 years behind bars if convicted of all the charges he faces, while Alzahrani could be handed a 25-year maximum jail term.

Alabdulwahab could face a maximum jail term of 10 years for each smuggling count he has been charged with, and 20 years for each violation of the Arms Export Control Act.

The US and Saudi Arabia do not have a formal extradition treaty, meaning the Kingdom does not send its citizens accused of crimes to America to face justice.

Last month, Oregon Live reported that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden had won approval for a new bill that could force the White House to disclose what it knows about the Saudi Arabian government’s alleged role in removing its citizens from the US to escape prosecution.

If it passes into law, the Saudi Fugitives Declassification Act would compel US authorities to declassify all information relating to how the Saudi government may have helped accused criminals leave the country.

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Trafficking victims rescued in Mali during Interpol-backed crackdown on forced labour and other forms of exploitation

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trafficking victims rescued in Mali

An Interpol-backed operation in Mali has resulted in the rescue of 64 women and girls who are thought to have been victims of human trafficking and people smuggling gangs.

In a statement, the global law enforcement agency said Operation Horonya saw the victims, who were from several African countries including Burkina Faso, Guinea and Nigeria, rescued from a life of forced labour, prostitution and forced begging.

The operation, which took place last month, involved local investigators targeting known trafficking hotspots, and resulted in suspected trafficking victims being rescued from settings including bars, residential properties and mining sites.

Three young boys were rescued from an illegal Islamic school, where they were said to have been compelled to beg for money.

Interpol said the operation has so far led to the arrest of four suspected traffickers, and that ongoing lines of enquiry could result in the detention of others.

As part of the initiative, law enforcement officers checked travellers’ passports at Bamako international airport, screening travel documents against a range of Interpol databases via I-24/7, the agency’s secure global police communications network.

Interpol said the effort highlighted a regional connection between human trafficking and organised criminal networks, and noted that suspected victims had been exploited in different countries before they arrived in Mali.

After their rescue, victims were offered protection and support from the International Organisation for Migration, as well as local NGO War Against Human Trafficking.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “Mali serves as major transit country for human traffickers who target the most vulnerable members of society.

“With victims from a range of countries, this operation showed that human trafficking and people smuggling is a truly transnational problem.

“Interpol’s role to connect police agencies across the world is essential in fighting these terrible crimes, and we will continue to work with our member countries to make sure they get the support they need.”

Back in August, Interpol announced that a similar operation in West Africa had resulted in the rescue of over 100 suspected victims of human trafficking, including 35 children.

Operation Adwenpa IV involved more than 200 officers from law enforcement agencies in 13 countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Many of the children rescued in that operation were discovered around the land border between Benin and Niger.

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Scientists create fake rhino horn in effort to thwart poachers

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scientists create fake rhino horn

Researchers at the University of Oxford and Fudan University in Shanghai have created a way of synthesising fake rhino horn.

The scientists believe the method has the potential to undermine the illicit market for the genuine article.

It is hoped that the process, which involves making bogus rhino horn from horse hair, will allow for the production of enough fake horn to flood the illegal market, preventing poachers from making a profit.

Detailing the process in a paper published in Scientific Reports, the researchers note that rhino horn is not a horn in the same way that the horn of a cow is, but is in fact a tuft of tightly packed hair that grows from the animal’s nose.

Gluing together hairs from horses, which as a species are closely related to rhinos, the scientists were able to produce fake horns that retain the feel and general properties of the real thing.

The researchers said the resultant product, which is cheap and relatively straightforward to make, can be used to confuse buyers of rhino horn.

They hope the process can be refined and then used to confuse the participants in the illicit rhino horn trade, depress prices and support the conservation of rhinos, some species of which are critically endangered.

Many people in some Asian countries believe wrongly that rhino horn has medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities.

In order to perpetuate such myths, poachers and wildlife smugglers often cut rhino horn with erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra to make buyers believe their products are having the desired effect.

Ruixin Mi from the Department of Macromolecular Science at Fudan University, one of the report’s co-authors, said in a statement: “Our study demonstrates that materials science can contribute to fundamental issues in biology and conservation.

“The fundamental structure of the rhino horn is a highly evolved and tough fibre reinforced bio-composite and we hope that our attempts to copy it will not only undermine the trade in rhino horn but might also find uses as a novel bio-inspired material.”

At the beginning of last month, a US court handed an Irish national a 14-month jail term for conspiracy to traffic a cup fashioned from the horn of an endangered species of rhino.

Richard Sheridan, 50, was extradited to the US from England to appear at a court in Miami, where he pleaded guilty to smuggling the cup.

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