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Cybercrime: INTERPOL arrests over 70 suspected fraudsters in Nigeria

Photo Collage: Channels TV

*The International Criminal Police Organisation’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre and national law enforcement say evidence reveals Black Axe and similar groups are responsible for the majority of the world’s cyber-enabled financial frauds and several other serious crimes

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Following a coordinated operation, operatives of the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) have apprehended over 70 suspected cyberfraudsters  in Nigeria.

The transnational police organisation declares the development confirms the global footprint of Black Axe and similar organised crime groups in the West African country.

ConsumerConnect reports the United Nations (UN) has disclosed USD2 trillion in illicit funds are laundered through the global financial system every year.

The INTERPOL, in a statement in regard to the recent crackdown on West-African financial crime rings, said in the codenamed ‘Operation Jackal’, the joint law enforcement effort mobilised 14 countries across four continents of the world in a targeted strike against Black Axe and related West-African criminal organisations.

The statement indicated that Operation Jackal marks the first time INTERPOL has coordinated a global operation specifically, against Black Axe, which it noted is rapidly becoming a major security threat worldwide.

It also said that Project CEFIN, in which 14 countries, including Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, United States and the United Kingdom participated, targeted cyber-enabled financial crimes.

Black Axe and similar groups are responsible for the majority of the world’s cyber-enabled financial fraud as well as many other serious crimes, according to evidence analysed by INTERPOL’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC) and national law enforcement.

According to the organisation, in South Africa alone, the two suspects arrested were wanted for online scams that extracted USD1.8 million from victims.

Lifeblood of organised crime

INTERPOL also stated that over one coordinated ‘action week’ (26-30 September), police worldwide launched enforcement operations against individuals linked to the Black Axe group, arresting suspected criminal operators or money mules, raiding and shutting down premises and seizing assets related to ongoing cases.

Two operational support teams of the organisation were also deployed to South Africa and Ireland respectively to help coordinate international law enforcement teams on the ground, the statement noted.

In Italy, the Carabinieri made three arrests in Campobasso within the framework of the operation.

In total, the operation resulted in: EUR 1.2 million intercepted in bank accounts, 75 arrests, 49 property searches, 7 INTERPOL Purple Notices, detailing criminal modus operandi, 6 INTERPOL Red Notices, issued for internationally-wanted fugitives.

Stephen Kavanagh, Executive Director of Police Services, INTERPOL, said: “Illicit financial funds are the lifeblood of transnational organised crime, and we have witnessed how groups like Black Axe will channel money gained from online financial scams into other crime areas, such as drugs and human trafficking.

These groups demand a global response.”

Lavish lifestyles

The immense quantity of assets seized, including 12,000 Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Cards, have provided new investigative leads for law enforcement, generating 13 analytical reports and allowing police to identify more than 70 additional suspects.

The organisation further noted that lavish lifestyles and greed of many suspects – allegedly paid for by defrauding members of the public of their savings and other criminal activities – was on clear display at the scenes of their arrest.

It said various luxury assets were seized, including a residential property, three cars and tens of thousands in cash.

The operation also saw INTERPOL successfully deploy its new global stop-payment mechanism known as the Anti-Money Laundering Rapid Response Protocol (ARRP), currently in its pilot stage.

Used within the framework of INTERPOL’s Global Financial Crime Task Force, the ARRP enables member countries to quickly intercept illegal proceeds of crime.

“The ARRP is a game-changer in the fight against global financial crime, where speed and international cooperation are crucial to intercepting illicit funds before they disappear into the pockets of money mules abroad,” said Rory Corcoran, Director of IFCACC. “INTERPOL’s Global Financial Crime Task Force has shown remarkable effectiveness in disrupting illicit financial flows, bringing together cyber and finance experts across sectors to track and cut off criminal money trails.”

Cyberfrauds as crimes without borders

Operation Jackal comes on the heels of INTERPOL’s first-ever roundtable engagement event with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Singapore last month, where a new joint initiative to take action against illicit financial flows was launched between the organisations.

Up to USD 2 trillion in illicit funds are laundered through the global financial system every year, according to the United Nations (UN), and it is estimated that less than 1% of these funds are intercepted and recovered.

“Fraud is transnational, there are no borders,” said Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan of Ireland’s Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, which participated in Operation Jackal.

Operation Jackal was conducted under the aegis of Project CEFIN, targeting cyber-enabled financial crimes.

Project CEFIN is funded by the Republic of Korea, said the organisation.

INTERPOL further stated: “This is a great example of what can be achieved when international police forces cooperate by sharing intelligence, information and evidence.

“By working together with support from INTERPOL, the activities of these criminal gangs can be greatly disrupted, making it safer online for everyone.”

Operation Jackal was conducted under the aegis of Project CEFIN, which targets cyber-enabled financial crimes, and is funded by the Republic of Korea.

The full list of participating countries in Operation Jackal are: Argentina, Australia, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).

On ‘Silver Terrier’

It is recalled that the INTERPOL National Central Bureau (NCB) and the Nigeria Police arrested 12 alleged members of a prolific cybercrime network in Abuja, Lagos, and Delta states late January 2022.

The suspects were said to be members of ‘Silver Terrier’, a network known for business e-mail compromise scams that have harmed thousands of companies globally.

Garba Umar, Vice-President of INTERPOL and Head of National Central Bureau Abuja, had said it was a joint operation that led to the arrest of the suspects with intelligence provided by the Interpol cybercrime directorate in Singapore.

Umar noted that preliminary analysis indicated that the suspects’ collective involvement in criminal schemes is associated with more than 50,000 victims.

One of the suspects arrested reportedly had in his possession over 800,000 potential victims’ domains credentials on his laptop.

Still, another suspect had been monitoring conversations between 16 companies and their clients and diverting funds to Silver Terrier whenever the companies’ monetary transaction is about to be made, report said.

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