Buhari’s aide, Garba Shehu, says the indictments are doubly damaging for every Nigerian and a taint on the country.
The Nigerian government says it will cooperate fully with the United States government to bring to justice almost 80 Nigerians recently indicted for massive fraud and money laundering.
In a 252-count federal grand jury indictment unsealed on Thursday, August 22, 2019, the defendants are accused of participating in a massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through a variety of fraud schemes and launder the funds through a Los Angeles-based money laundering network ran by two Nigerians.
“We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in US history,” United States Attorney for the Central District of California, Nick Hanna, said during a press conference on Thursday.
With only 17 suspects in custody of the U.S. government, the Assistant Director in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Paul Delacourt, disclosed that the agency is working with security agencies in nine countries to apprehend 57 defendants.
U.S. federal agents hold a detainee, center, at a downtown Los Angeles parking lot after predawn raids that saw dozens of people arrested in the L.A. area Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 [AP Photo/Reed Saxon]
While speaking during an interview on Channels Television on Sunday, August 25, President Muhammadu Buhari‘s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said the government would consider extraditing indicted suspects to the U.S. if required.
“If the Nigerian government is required to cooperate in any way, including extradition, if it meets the requirement of our laws, they will be assisted to prosecute them and face justice,” he said.
He reiterated that the 76-year-old president will not fight for Nigerians who violate the laws of the countries where they reside.
“This administration will work with all nations around the globe to fight criminality. If it is Nigerians that are involved in this thing, well, hard luck to them.
“But the government would not stand in the way of the justice system. Every citizen of this country who travels out of the country are required to obey the laws of their host countries,” he said.
He also said the incident is a wake up call for the government, and that it’ll inspire the generation of new laws from the National Assembly as well as new executive orders from the president if necessary.
He said the laws will aim to block some loopholes used by Nigerians to “embarrass and blacklist the country”.
Shehu described the indictments as “doubly damaging” for every Nigerian and a taint on the country. However, he said anyone “with a modicum of common sense” would not profile all Nigerians as bad based on the actions of only a few.
“Nigerians are hardworking and honest people all over the world. There are millions of our citizens who are out there earning legitimately their own incomes. No, they don’t deserve to be so tarnished.” he said.
Shehu also disclosed that the U.S. government is already in talks with Nigeria’s Ministry of Justice regarding the indictments.
The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), he said, is also involved in talks with the U.S. government surrounding concerns about the rights of fellow Nigerians in the country.
Last week, the commission’s chairperson, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, called on indicted suspects to turn themselves in to authorities.
“We ask those accused in Nigeria to voluntarily turn themselves in to American authorities to clear their names, without which the Nigerian government would extradite them if relevant international treaties between the two governments are invoked,” she said.
Criminal ring stole millions of dollars
FBI’s Delacourt said last week that the case involves 32 confirmed victims located in the U.S., Japan, the United Kingdom, Lebanon, Ukraine, China, Mexico, Germany, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, and Trinidad and Tobago with an approximated loss of $10 million.
Federal agents hold a detainee, second from left, at a downtown Los Angeles parking lot after predawn raids that saw dozens of people arrested in the L.A. area on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 [AP Photo/Reed Saxon]
Investigation into the criminal ring began in 2016 with a single bank account used to receive funds stolen from a compromised business email.
“The case then evolved into a complex, sophisticated, extensive conspiracy involving various types of cyberfraud through business emails compromise, traditional romance schemes, and the laundering of the proceeds of those frauds,” Delacourt said.
31-year-old Valentine Iro and 38-year-old Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, both Nigerians, were used by the network for bank and money-service accounts that could receive funds fraudulently obtained from victims.
Iro and Igbokwe allegedly collected bank accounts, fielded requests for bank account information, provided that information to co-conspirators around the world, and laundered the money obtained from victims.
They did this in exchange for a cut of the money stolen from victims of the various fraud schemes.
The suspects are on the hook for conspiracy to engage in money laundering; conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and bank fraud; wire and bank fraud; and money laundering.
Other charges include engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity; operating an unlicensed money transmitting business; destruction of property to prevent seizure; false statements; aggravated identity theft; aiding and abetting; and criminal forfeiture.
“If convicted,” Hanna said, “all of the defendants face potential decades in federal prison.”