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Game up for suspected cybercriminals

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In one fell swoop, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives smoked out 80 suspected cyber criminals from their ‘ornate’ hideout in Lagos, writes Ayo Oyewole.

At 30, Oladimeji Olusegun Ogunfolaju sits atop a goldmine of sorts: Lakers Hotel and Lake County Entertainment at Ebute-Igbogbo area of Ikorodu, Lagos.

Everywhere Ogunfolaju, a businessman, hotelier and entertainment Czar, goes, he gets a rousing welcome; and he can’t be happier.

Indeed, many, particularly “Area boys”, hangers-on and mendicant, who all look up to him and some others in his class for survival, usually pour effusive praises on him.

Inside his eye-popping hotel, which also houses a night club and a strip club, hedonists, revelers and sensualists daily beat a path to his door, where he calls the shots.

Without a doubt, Ogunfolaju has literally tasted wealth and he seems to be enjoying the after-taste in his mouth.

So, he hates to be reminded of his humble beginning, days when his bread had not been buttered!

But unknown to many of his admirers, fair-complexioned Ogunfalaju’s rise to fame was steeped in unwholesome deals.

Game up for suspected cybercriminals - The Nation Nigeria
•A Range Rover seized from a suspected cyber fraudster

Earlier in life, Ogunfolaju, who hails from Ilesha in Osun State, had worked as a cleaner with the defunct Oceanic Bank Plc (now Eco Bank Plc) in 2007.  But he envisioned a better life for himself, and could not even wait to announce his “arrival” on the social scene.

By providence, he later got a job at Skye Bank Plc (Now Polaris Bank Plc), as a casual staff in the Money Transfer Unit.

While in Skye Bank, he claimed to have acquired some knowledge in Forex trading. In his warped thinking, that was all he needed to re-write his story.

So, obviously blinded by his unbridled quest for money, Ogunfolaju could not be stopped in his tracks- he deployed his seeming expertise in Forex trading to criminal deeds. And he reaped bountifully from his criminal deeds, as evidenced in the opening of his hotel in 2017 after his disengagement from the bank.

But the bubble burst on him on  March 7, 2020 when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), paid an unscheduled visit to the hotel.

The raid by EFCC operatives on the hotel, which is heavily guarded by some security personnel, followed over three months of intensive surveillance and intelligence gathering about the alleged criminal activities being perpetrated by its patrons.

Investigation revealed that cyber criminals had turned the hotel into their second home, with the tacit permission of Ogunfolaju, the promoter of the fun place.

During the about six-hour raid co-ordinated by the Heads, Advance Free Fraud and Cybercrime Sections, a total of 79 suspected internet fraudsters were caught in flagrante delicto!

The successful operation was carried out without any unanticipated drama, as the security personnel literally dialogued with their legs at the sight of the no-nonsense EFCC operatives.

Already, over 60 of the suspects have volunteered useful information, leading to further investigation.

Speaking on the arrest of the suspected criminals, who have begun to sing like canaries, the Zonal Head of the Lagos Office, Mohammed Rabo, said: “We have been gathering intelligence on the hotel for over three months.

We have observed, through open source and other covert means that the hotel is a hive for cyber-criminals, who converge there on daily basis in high number to transact.

“Actually, it is a hotel, but it also has a night club, a strip club and an open bar within its confines.  With the kind of attention the hotel was receiving, we feel it is not just a source of concern, but also that it will act as a breeding ground for a syndicate of cybercrime network to use as a base to strategise and execute its attacks.

“So, there was a need for us to not just raid the hotel for the sake of shutting it down, but to disrupt the activities of the network of the syndicate there.”

Even as investigations continue, Rabo said several useful exhibits were recovered, adding that “there is a high number of active participants at the hotel as well as different levels of participants within the echelon of the syndicate network.

“We are hoping that we can work our way through their ranks to get to the very heart and nucleus of their operations, so that this disruption can be fully actualised.”

When asked if Ogunfolaju had confessed to the crime, Rabo immediately declared that “the 21st Century investigation is not about getting people to confess to their crimes.”

The reason, according to him, is that the burden of proof is on the prosecutors; hence, the need to substantiate the charge by getting overwhelming evidences to secure a conviction in any competent court of jurisdiction.

His words: “We are not necessarily excited about the confession; rather, the facts should speak for themselves and we believe we have a good enough case to substantiate the charges in court.

“When he opened the hotel, many believed that his fortunes had turned around.

“But we are are pretty convinced that his fortunes are not unconnected to certain acts that could be tied to offences that we are currently investigating.”

Sharing his experience since the Commission launched a vigorous and sustained onslaught on perpetrators of cybercrimes, Rabo, without mincing words, said it had been quite tasking, particularly due to the enormous number of participants that had been seen either by way of investigation or arrest.

He, however, expressed satisfaction that the Commission was winning the war against internet fraud.

According to him, “In 2019, the Commission recorded a good number of convictions across the country.

“The Lagos zone alone had over 200 convictions of cybercriminals. The figure is unprecedented. It tells you that the war against Internet fraud and cybercrimes is actually yielding positive results.

Game up for suspected cybercriminals - The Nation Nigeria
•A Mercedez Benz seized from a suspected cyber fraudster

“Indeed, most of the perpetrators are now having a change of heart. It also means that the value system is being re-altered to what it ought to be in the first place, which is about nation-building, dignity of labour, hard work and honest living.”

He, therefore, advised the youth to shun crimes, while urging families not to fail in their responsibilities. “It is very important for families to instill the right values in their children and those under their guidance.

“It is high time we went back to the old ways of community parenting, whereby you are not only interested in your child, but also everybody’s child around you,” he further said.

Rabo also called on the members of the public to continue to support anti-graft agencies by providing useful information that will disrupt the activities of syndicates of internet fraud.

“It is not the job of the government alone, but everybody’s,” he added.

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