Eight Nigerian men accused of internet scam have been charged in a South African court after a massive international operation involving the FBI and Interpol.
The authorities of the United States, where the investigation originated and where most of the alleged victims are based, have asked for their extradition.
They are accused of defrauding more than 100 victims for nearly $ 7 million (£ 5 million) in total over the past decade.
They did not comment on the allegations.
According to police spokeswoman Col Katlego Mogale, it is the largest bust of its kind in South Africa.
The suspects, aged 33 to 52, were arrested in Cape Town on Tuesday following a request for legal assistance from the United States.
The FBI and US intelligence are believed to have conducted the investigation and worked with South African authorities, including the elite police unit, the Hawks.
The men are wanted in Texas and New Jersey for a variety of crimes, including conspiracy to commit telephone and postal fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft.
Against the bail, prosecutor Robin Lewis said the men are members of the Black Ax, a transnational organized crime syndicate originating in Nigeria, whose specialties include money laundering through various accounts.
The state argued that the men were at risk of absconding because they still have access to the accounts allegedly used.
Suspects face 20 years in prison if convicted.
The suspicious ‘tearful stories’
They are alleged to have preyed on their victims through dating sites using false identities. The victims, often vulnerable or divorced widows from around the world, thought they had genuine romantic relationships.
Col Mogale said that once the suspects “ingratiated themselves with their victims, they would come up with heartbreaking stories about why they needed the money – ie taxes to free an inheritance, essential overseas travel, crippling debt, etc.” – and then they stole money from the victims “.
“The scammers intimidated and scolded their victims, ruined their lives and then disappeared,” he said.
A neighbor of two of the suspects, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the BBC he was shocked to learn that the two brothers were alleged members of a Nigerian criminal gang.
“[They] they were friendly and never brought any crime to the area. The only brother was married to a South African citizen, “he said.
“Once a week about 10 luxury cars arrived and left again in a few hours. They were high-end vehicles like a 2021 Mercedes Benz, a Jeep and a Ferrari. The way they dressed showed they were rich.”
The neighbor was awakened by the sound of dogs barking when the brothers’ homes were searched on Tuesday. About 60 men from various police units spent about six hours gathering evidence at the properties. Seven other properties were also searched in the same neighborhood.
Mr. Lewis said some of the men were not legally in South Africa as their passports have expired. He also argued that if the men were released on bail, they could have tampered with the evidence digitally.
A full bail request has been set for next Tuesday and Thursday pending the extradition hearing.
TimeLive of South Africa reported that the Hawks were looking for a ninth man connected to the case.
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