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Nigerian drug importer fighting deportation in Sydney cons US pensioner out of $400k before convincing him to import 2.5kg of cocaine into Australia

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A Nigerian drug dealer, conned a US pensioner out of his life savings and later convinced him to import cocaine as part of an alleged global drug trafficking and scamming network.

Mr Peter Strand, 55, lost his job as an electrical salesman, his marriage and later $US400,000  to a series of romance scams, when he received an email in November 2013 from a scammer posing as a Nigerian Government official offering to help retrieve the funds.

Nigerian-born Patrick Dirichukwu Nweke, 44, a convicted drug importer who ‘d been in detention fighting deportation, orchestrated the operation from Villawood Detention Centre in western Sydney, and landed Peter Strand, in jail on drug charges.

Nigerian drug importer fighting deportation in Sydney cons US pensioner out of $400k before convincing him to import 2.5kg of cocaine into Australia

According to Daily Mail, the revelations are part of a Four Corners investigation which reports phone taps inside Villawood revealed Nweke’s actions as part of a global scamming network and drug trafgicking operation run out of Villawood detention centre,

Phone taps recorded inside Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre  uncovered the inner workings of the global fraud and drug trafficking network that used a serial scam victim to smuggle drugs into Australia.

The phone intercepts, obtained by Four Corners, reveal how Nweke directed and financed the operation using an American disability pensioner, who he had never met, as a drug mule.

Nigerian drug importer fighting deportation in Sydney cons US pensioner out of $400k before convincing him to import 2.5kg of cocaine into Australia

Nweke was recorded by the NSW Crime Commission and NSW Police as he used smuggled phones to coordinate with operatives in Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia to lure Peter Strand, to Sydney airport with 2.5 kilograms of cocaine.

A Four Corners investigation has found Nweke’s syndicate was part of a worldwide network of crimeorganisations that originated in Nigeria and are now making billions of dollars a year from online fraud, drug smuggling and money laundering.

Mr Strand alone was conned out of $400,000 as part of a romance scam and spent 18 months behind bars in Sydney accused of importing 2.5kg of cocaine in 2014.

‘It was extremely well organised,’ Mr Strand told Monday night’s Four Corners in the town of Fox River Grove, near Chicago, where he has returned after spending 18 months in a Sydney jail accused of importing cocaine.

“I was hoodwinked, I was coerced, convinced or otherwise led to believe that something was going to happen that never happened.”

The retiree’s woes began after he received an email in November 2013 from someone posing as a Nigerian Government official.Soon he was in almost constant communication with the scammer who referred to himself only as ‘Bricks Manuel’.

ABC news also reported that Mr Strand’s ill-health and overt use of an oxygen pipe was cunningly targeted as it made him the perfect potential smuggler.

The New South Wales Crime Commission stumbled upon the operation to lure Mr Strand from the US when they heard Nweke on calls in 2013 to a Chinese-Australian money launderer who specialised in shifting vast sums of money offshore for Sydney drug syndicates.

From November 2013 to April 2014, the Commission and NSW Police tapped 10 mobile services Nweke used inside Villawood to secretly call Nigerian contacts in South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, India and Australia.

At the time, Nweke was fighting deportation from Australia over his previous conviction for importing cocaine.

Nweke bragged on the phone about his ability to bring in “birds” — stooges to smuggle drugs on planes.

“I don’t put myself at the frontline,” he said. “I like to put other people there.”
He put out the call to his operatives to find a Westerner who would escape the attention of Australian Customs.

Within days, the ailing diabetic was in constant contact via email and on the phone with the official who called himself “Bricks Manuel”. 

“The intensity of the communications with Bricks at some point was almost every day, sometimes two or three times a day, sometimes in the middle of the night,” Mr Strand said. “It was virtually around the clock.”

After months of communication between Mr Strand and “Bricks”, Nweke received word from a contact in Nigeria that a potential courier in Chicago had been sourced by scammers in Europe. 

“The people controlling the man are in Spain,” the operative told Nweke.

The operative, who called himself Kelvin, described Mr Strand as a prize catch because he was broke, sick and frail.

“The man is the best,” Kelvin said. “He moves about with a built-in oxygen pipe — that is how he breathes, so no-one will even stop him. You will even pity him when you see him.”

Another operative told Nweke “the guy is very good for what you need him for, his age is good, he has something in his heart that helps him breathe”.

“This person is a white man, someone who is always online planning how to make money with people,” he said.

Nweke bankrolled the high-risk operation and planned to distribute shares of the profits through his international network, which his calls revealed spread into Spain, Austria, the Philippines, China, Japan and Bangladesh.

“Does this man know what he is doing?” Nweke asked in another call.
“What he knows, he is doing chemicals,” Kelvin said. 
“What they are told is that they are carrying chemicals used in producing money. That is what the marketers tell them.”

Mr Strand was told he was collecting chemicals to literally launder money, an outlandish scam used with surprising success by West African syndicates as one way to convince travellers to carry drugs.

“Supposedly this cash that I was going to be getting was marked with some type of dye, which needed to be cleaned off in order for me to get clean cash,” Mr Strand said.”The cash was in turn supposed to be for me, but I never got it.”
Mr Strand was sent on three trips to South America.
“There were people during the course of all these trips that would seem to come out of the woodwork. There was a network of people who God knows how these people all fit together.”said Strand.

Australian police were waiting for Mr Strand when he landed at Sydney airport on a flight from Brazil on April 29, 2014.

Customs officers found 2.5 kilograms of pure cocaine mixed with other chemicals inside two protein powder containers in a bag he had brought from Brazil.

Mr Strand was among 44 drug mules arrested at Australian airports between 2013 and 2016 after being drawn in by criminal syndicates, many of them unwittingly, using online scams. Mr Strand’s barrister, David Barrow, represented several of them

“He wasn’t the only one who fell for it,” Mr Barrow said. “He was identified as the type of gullible person who was vulnerable to this type of manipulation. They managed to tap into his weaknesses — he was down and out, he’d lost just about everything.
“It was tailor-made to meet the need to manipulate him and they had real insights into what made him tick. They were able to respond to him in ways that constantly reassured him … They knew how to mollify him, to reassure him, to manipulate his emotions.”

As Mr Barrow trawled through hundreds of emails between Mr Strand and his scammers, as well as five months of intercepted calls in and out of Villawood, the criminal lawyer and Crown prosecutor detected a criminal methodology he had never witnessed before.

“They seemed to be like a vertically integrated company,” Mr Barrow told Four Corners. They were able to source the drugs from particular places — in this case from Brazil but from places like China as well. They had people on the ground there who obviously were able to transmit funds for the payment of the drugs, they were able to source gullible couriers like Mr Strand who were white, who were ‘respectable’, who weren’t going to be closely looked at as they travelled through international borders. They would coordinate their travel arrangements, they would put them up in hotels, they would provide them with money, aeroplane tickets and then upon receipt, they would take acceptance of the drugs and introduce them into the market, whichever country they got to. It was a well-tried and I think well-practised approach.”

Mr Strand was found not guilty of drug importation after a trial in the NSW District Court.
Nweke was convicted of drug importation last year and is due to be sentenced next month for his leadership role in a global crime network.

According to the FBI, crime organisations that started in Nigeria have spread to more than 80 countries and are among the most “aggressive and expansionist” in the world. 

American cyber intelligence firm Crowdstrike has found the crimeorganisations have adapted low-tech con artistry from the so-called “Nigerian prince scams” of the 1990s into a global enterprise, making billions of dollars a year and conning individuals and businesses on an industrial scale.

“West African cybercrime is the biggest threat that we see on the internet today,” Crowdstrike’s vice-president of intelligence Adam Meyers said.
“We’re looking at over $12 billion in five years. It eclipses all the other threats that we’ve seen that are financially motivated.”

Former US Federal Trade Commission director Steve Baker told Four Corners police around the world had underestimated the cyber syndicates for too long. 

“Coming to terms with the fact these really are huge, organised, worldwide enterprises are something I think the police around the world are still learning about and we’ve got a long way to go if we’re going to do something effective,” he said. 

In 2016, the US Senate Committee on Aging reported that at least 145 scam victims, most of them seniors, had been arrested overseas carrying hundreds of kilograms of drugs.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) worked with counterparts in the US, Canada, Asia and the Middle East to investigate the syndicates that lured the scam victims into becoming drug mules. 

“It’s definitely not an isolated case,” Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan told Four Corners.

“Between 2013 and 2016, a substantial number of drugs were brought in by people that were scammed by others. We seized 190 kilograms of methamphetamine, 19 kilograms of cocaine and 19 kilograms of heroin. These groups are very well resourced, they obviously have large numbers of people and they’re very well organised.”

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Poor tax collection: Fowler replies Buhari’s query

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The Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babatunde Fowler, has responded to a memo from Abba Kyari, the chief of staff to the president, who said there were significant variances between the tax budgeted collections and actual collections for the period 2015 to 2018.

However, Fowler in his response explained that the recession experienced by the Nigerian economy in 2016 as well as lower oil prices affected the revenue collected by the FIRS.

See Fowler’s response: “I refer to your letter dated 8th August, 2019 on the above subject matter and hereby submit a comprehensive variance analysis between budgeted and actual collections for each main tax item for the period 2012-2018 as requested (see appendix 1).

“Your letter stated that actual collections for a 3-year period were significantly worse than what was collected between 2012 and 2014. Total actual collection for the said period wasN14,527.85 trillion, while total actual collection between 2016 to 2018 was N12,656.30 trillion.

The highlight of these collection figures was that during the period 2012 to 2014, out of the N14,527.85 trillion, oil revenue accounted for N8,321.64 trillion or 57.28% while non-oil accounted for N6,206.22 trillion or 42.72% and during the later period of 2016 to 2018, out of the N12,656.30 trillion, oil revenue accounted for N5,145.87 trillionor 40.65% and non-oil revenue accounted N7,510.42 trillion or 59.35%.

FIRS management has control of non-oil revenue collection figures while oil revenue collection figures are subject to more external forces.” He wrote: “The non-oil revenue collection grew by N1,304.20 trillion or 21% within the period 2016 to 2018.

“Kindly note that the total budget collection figure during 2012 to 2014 stood at N12,190.52 trillion compared to N16,771.78 trillion for the period 2016 to 2018, which represent an increase of 37.58%.

“Please note that the variance in the budgeted and actual revenue collection performance of the Service for the period 2016 to 2018 was main attributed to the following reasons:

“1. The low inflow of oil revenues for the period especially Petroleum Profit Tax (PPT) was due to fall in price of crude oil and reduction of crude oil production. Notwithstanding government efforts to diversify the economy, oil revenues remains (remain) an important component of total revenues accruable to the Federation. The price of crude oil fell from an average of $113.72, $110.98 and $100.40 per barrel in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to $ 52.65, $43.80 and $54.08 per barrel in 2015, 2016 and 2017. There was also a reduction in crude oil production from 2.31mbpd, 2.18mbpd and 2.20mbpd in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to 2.12mbpd, 1.81mbpd and 1.88mbpd in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.

“2. The Nigerian economy also went into recession in the second quarter of 2016 which slowed down general economic activities. Tax revenue collection (CIT and VAT) being a function of economic activities were negatively affected but actual collection of the above two taxes were still higher in 2016 to 2018 than in 2012 to 2014. During the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, GDP grew by 4.3%, 5.4% and 6.3% while in 2015, 2016 and 2017 there was a decline in growth to 2.7%, -1.6% and 1.9% respectively. The tax revenue grew as the economy recovered in the second quarter of 2017.

“3. It is worthy of note that strategies and initiatives adopted in collection of VAT during the period 2015-2017 led to approximately 40% increase over 2012-2014 collections. In 2014 the VAT collected was N802billion, compared to N1.1 trillion in 2018. This increase is attributable to various initiatives such as ICT innovations, continuous taxpayer education, taxpayer enlightenment, etc embarked upon by the Service.

“4. Furthermore, it is pertinent to note that when this administration came on board in August 2015, the target the target for the two major non-oil taxes were increased by 52% for VAT and 45% for CIT. Notwithstanding the increase, FIRS has in line with the Federal government’s revenue base diversification strategy has grown the non-oil tax collection by over N1.304 trillion (21%) when the total non-oil tax collection for 2016-2018 is compared to that of 2012-2014.

“I am confident that our current strategies and initiatives will improve revenue collection and meet the expectations of government.

“Please accept the assurance of my highest regards.”

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We’re not aware of Oyo-Ita’s purported retirement – Presidency

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The Presidency on Monday declared that it was not aware of the purported move of the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, to retire from service.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had last week Tuesday grilled Oyo-Ita over alleged N3bn scam. The Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, in a text message said that the Presidency was not in possession of any letter of intent from Oyo-Ita to retire from service. “Thanks.

We have no such letter here, in the event that such a letter exists. This is our position,” he stated

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Alleged N3bn Contract Scam: Winifred Oyo-Ita sends retirement letter to Buhari

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Winifred Oyo-Ita, the head of service of the federation, has offered to immediately proceed on retirement in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The widow had been under pressure from her immediate family to retire after news reports emerged that she was being probed over an alleged N3 billion contract scam.

Although she has vehemently denied involvement in any scam, she bowed to family pressures and sent in a letter on Sunday offering to proceed on retirement, we can report.

Buhari is yet to take a final decision on it but reports say he is favourably disposed to the option.

“Mrs Oyo-Ita has sent in her letter of retirement,” a family member, who asked not to be named, said on Monday morning.

She was absent at the presidential retreat for ministers-designate, federal permanent secretaries and top government functionaries held at the state house conference centre in Abuja.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently questioned Oyo-Ita over allegations that she used front companies to get contracts when she was a permanent secretary before her appointment as head of service by Buhari in 2015.

There were insinuations that she was being “punished” for “falling out” with Abba Kyari but it was learnt that the president’s chief of staff was unaware of the EFCC probe until it was leaked to the media.

Oyo-Ita has also told her associates not to drag Kyari into the matter because “it is not true”, according to a family member.

The EFCC said the petition against her was written in 2014 when President Goodluck Jonathan was still in office. It was however, learnt that Oyo-Ita was not the subject of the probe.

It was also reported that N600 million was traced to the account of one of her aides who has been quizzed by the anti-graft agency and released.

However, Oyo-Ita also denied the allegation, saying the money was meant for the death benefits of staff and was meant to be kept in a designated account for that purpose by the project accountant.

“She denied knowing anything about where the money was kept and said there was no fraud involved, at least not from her end,” the family member said.

The Cable

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