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cash laundering Two men guilty of €183k PUP scam have suspected links with notorious Black Axe gang

The Black Axe syndicate first emerged in the 1970s and has evolved into one of the biggest fraud mobs operating across the world.

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Oluwagbewikeke Lewis. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Oluwagbewikeke Lewis. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Bashiru Aderibige. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Bashiru Aderibige. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

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Oluwagbewikeke Lewis. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Detectives suspect two men who pleaded guilty this week to a money-laundering conspiracy involving €183,491 in funds fraudulently obtained under the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) programme are part of the global-wide Nigerian Black Axe crime organisation.

Black Axe is considered to be the world’s biggest fraud gang, and senior officers attached to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) believe its activities in Ireland have significantly increased in recent years.

“It is suspected that this gang has been in Ireland for around 20 years but their activities here have become more prevalent,” a source has claimed.

“Gardaí cannot say how many members are based in Ireland, but what is known is that there are so many layers to this transnational organisation that it makes it almost impenetrable.

“For example, evidence was given in Cork Circuit Court that one of the defendants in this very complicated fraud was in contact with ‘The Chairman’, but this Chairman may in fact not be a specific individual but a number of senior gang members who use this alias.

“What is certain is that if a defendant, such as what was outlined in this case, has direct contact with The Chairman, it shows that they are a significant operator within the organisation, but it is also likely that the defendant is completely unaware of The Chairman’s true identity or more likely identities.

“The GNECB have made hundreds of arrests of individuals over the past two years who are suspected of working for Black Axe in some capacity, but not once has an individual admitted working for the organisation.”

Detectives do not believe Oluwagbewikeke Lewis (36), of Brookdale, Midleton, Co Cork, and Bashiru Aderibige (44), formerly of Dwyers Road, Midleton, are typical examples of people who have been manipulated by the gang, especially since Lewis was heard in one recorded WhatsApp call in contact with The Chairman.

Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard gardaí intervened in the elaborate scam involving the Nigerian crime gang and managed to secure orders freezing €32,158 in various bank accounts set up as part of the conspiracy.

While €30,000 was later traced to a German bank account, more than €150,000 of the funds obtained from fraudulent PUP claims remains unaccounted for.

The two men were remanded in custody and will be sentenced on Wednesday.

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The Black Axe syndicate first emerged in the 1970s when it was involved in ritual murders, but it has evolved into one of the biggest fraud mobs operating across the world, often recruiting computer specialists in universities.

Black Axe has been regularly described as a cult group in international media reports and is also known as the Neo-Black Movement of Africa.

In Ireland, fraud squad officers under the command of Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan and Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan have three major nationwide investigations – these are SKEIN, Parade and Boxplot.

“What has become increasingly evident in these investigations is that they are all linked and intertwined with each other, and a common denominator in them all is the suspicion that Black Axe are pulling the strings at the highest levels,” the source said.

“This organisation is making massive money across the world from romance fraud and invoice redirect fraud in particular, but in other countries such as Italy they have branched out into controlling prostitution and a wide variety of other organised crimes.”

Detectives have identified at least one Black Axe member based in Ireland who is suspected of being involved in the sophisticated technical work involved in the frauds.

“Even a short examination of Black Axe activities shows organised crime does not recognise international borders,” the source said.

As part of a separate investigation, officers from the GNECB arrested a 32-year-old computer expert, who is suspected of having links to Black Axe in the Balbriggan area of north Co Dublin, in early June.

A garda spokeswoman said at the time the criminal organisation has stolen more than €14m worldwide in invoice redirect frauds/business email compromise frauds with at least €8m to €9m laundered through the bank accounts of gang members and money mules all over Ireland.

Last month, in the South African city of Cape Town, eight suspected Black Axe members were arrested and charged on foot of an extradition request by the United States, where they are alleged to be involved in a romance fraud scam against American citizens involving well over €5m.

This group of Nigerian nationals allegedly used South Africa as a base from which to defraud women and companies across the world. They face up to 60 years each in prison if convicted.

Aside from charges of conspiring to commit money laundering, the accused also face charges in the US including fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and identity theft.

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