Caged! Maxwell Peter, facing 19 charges
The Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) has arraigned two suspects believed to be members of internet fraud syndicate before an Accra Central District Court.
Maxwell Peter and Babatunde Martins together with nine other suspects – five of who are at large – are said to be part of a cabal which allegedly defrauds unsuspecting victims through cybercrime, popularly known in local parlance as ‘sakawa.’
They are alleged to have successfully defrauded some United States citizens to the tune of $10 million under the pretext of supplying them with gold bars.
They are also accused of planting a bug on the website of a real estate company which they use to defraud the company’s clients.
Three of the suspects, Dana Brady, James Dean and Javier Luis Ramos Alonso, are currently in detention in the United States.
Another, Bernard Okorhi, has also been detained by Canadian authorities in connection with the matter.
The suspects were picked up when EOCO was put on red alert by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the USA that a group of individuals were involved in a network of cybercrime, financial crime and money laundering, and a real estate company in the States had been hacked with its funds diverted into another account.
The accused persons, allegedly working together, hacked into the email servers of the company and used their email addresses and bank accounts to misdirect funds intended to the company, into the suspects’ bank accounts.
Maxwell Peter has been previously arraigned before a district court in Tamale in the Northern Region in another matter for purportedly defrauding by false pretences; and has been granted bail in the sum of GH¢200,000 with two sureties who are civil servants.
However, Maxwell Peter was unable to meet the bail terms.
He has since been transported to Accra for further investigation into the case.
He was arrested through collaborated efforts of personnel from FBI, EOCO, the Narcotic Control Board (NACOB) and the police.
A search conducted in the rooms of Maxwell led to the retrieval of some documents covering various transactions he had with his victims, which amounted to $60,000 and €8,500.
During interrogations, Maxwell confessed having had several business contracts with the complainants and also confirmed the payments, supposed to have been used for gold purchases.
The second accused, Babatunde Martins, is also involved in a legal tussle for money laundering and his bank account containing $300,000 has since been frozen by EOCO.
The two and the other members of the criminal network are facing 19 counts of defrauding by false pretences, conspiracy to defraud and unlawful access to computer programme or electronic record, contrary to Section 130(1) of the Electronic Transaction Act 2008 (Act772).
They pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Defence counsel, led by Alidu Mohammed, argued that the facts do not tally with the charges and that the offence the suspects have been charged with are bailable.
He said the prosecution could not tell the court why the accused persons should be remanded and thus prayed the court to grant them bail.
The lawyers argued that Babatunde Martins is facing the same charges at an Accra High Court (Financial and Electronic Division) and that the district court does not have jurisdiction over the matter and must therefore direct the prosecution to take the case back to the high court.
He said the high court had granted the accused person bail and if the district court refused to grant him bail, its decision could be seen to override that of a higher court.
The prosecution, led by a state attorney, Charles Ofori, vehemently opposed the granting of bail, saying intelligence gathered by the investigative team indicated that the two accused persons were still communicating with the other suspects who are on the run.
He said granting them bail would allow them to help the others escape and this could curtail investigations.
With the jurisdiction argument as raised by the defence counsel, Mr. Ofori said the matter at the high court had been discontinued as Babatunde had been discharged therefore, no conflict would arise from the decision of the district court against that of the high court.
He said the matter before the court and that of Maxwell Peter’s in Tamale are two separate cases and prayed the court to remand the two to enable the prosecution successfully investigate the matter.
The presiding magistrate, Dora Araba Essien, after listening to both sides, adjourned the matter to December 19, 2017 to rule on the bail application.
She ordered that the two be kept in EOCO cells until the next adjourned date.
By Gibril Abdul Razak & Eric Kombat, Tamale