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Hamza Koudeih: Unravelling a money laundering honcho

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He is a Lebanese, resident in Lagos and steeped in money.

From his $1.3m residence in Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower to his high-end automobiles, Hamza Koudeih oozes money-all of which he made doing nothing in the country but money laundering- which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says he has done to the tune of $19m.

Those who have followed the unravelling of a Lebanese man, Hamza Koudeih by the EFCC, would readily agree that it is misleading to judge a book by its cover. He is unassuming, comes off innocuous, and given to sedentary lifestyle.

In the swank 33-flight Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower, where he nestles with his young wife, he chose the fourth floor. This is to earn him some distance, even from his equally upscale neighbours.

Within the vicinity of this Victoria Island, Lagos high-end real estate, Koudeih ensures that no more than a moderate whiff of wealth and affluence trail his path. This is to belie his ill-gotten wealth and the fact that he dwells in $1.3m worth of residence.

To a few who know him, he is no more than a boardroom technocrat, who pulls the stops in THK Services Limited and CHK properties Limited. But the Koudeih whom many more do not know is a façade, an edifice of fraud; evil genius, a wise guy-a man much more than whom and what people think he is.

He amassed obscene wealth, doing nothing over the years in Nigeria barring crimes and criminalities, having fashioned a trans-Atlantic money laundering network.

Within the local scene, he has high net worth allies that include social media celebrity, Ismaila Mustapha popularly known as (Mompha), whom the Commission picked up on Friday, 18 October, 2019 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, while he was on his way to Dubai, United Arab Emirate. Mompha’s arrest laid the path to that of Koudeih.

Investigations by the EFCC established that while Mompha, who camouflages as a bureau de change operator has used his firm-Ismalob Global Investments Limited-to launder about N14 billion, Koudeih through his THK Services Limited and CHK properties Limited has laundered about N19 billion. Evidently, the two are kingpins in a criminal web of cybercriminals who through the three firms, laundered a jaw-dropping N33 billion.

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Before the ring was busted, both men had featured on EFCC and United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) radar as a high valued targets in Organised Cyber Syndicate Network (OCSN) and particularly as honchos in a trans-national network of cybercriminals. These according to head, EFCC Cybercrime Unit (name withheld) were established by Intel, gathered by the EFCC and the FBI in their recent joint operation, tagged, “Operation Rewired.”

Worrisome is that Mompha was able to successfully operate 51 fraudulent bank accounts, through which the monies were laundered even with the enhanced account tracking and surveillance which the Bank Verification Number (BVN), introduced by the Central Bank of Nigerian in February 2014 provides.

Koudeih was not an easy picking for the EFCC. Armed with precision Intel, additionally gathered by the EFCC, its operatives tracked him to his lair in Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower and placed the piece of the real estate, where he has his apartment on a lockdown.

Koudeih’s world of crime is heavily reinforced with a string of top-notch security architecture that inures and shields him.

Aside from surveillance cameras and closed-circuit television (CCTV), that capture anyone that comes within range, his apartment is secured three times over with a triple reinforced fire-proof door, designed to withstand violent breaches, including bullet shots.

Apparently convinced that the EFCC was on a wild goose chase for him, Koudeih and his wife refused to yield to all appeals by the operatives to open their maximum security door and let them in, so also the additional entreaties that later came from the tower’s chief security officer.

The pin-drop silence that greeted the appeals of EFCC operatives was a dummy to mask their presence inside the apartment, but way down to the ground, Koudeih’s high-end cars, parked in his garage were enough to tell the operatives that he was in.

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The lack of cooperation from the Lebanese as well as that from the owners and administrators of Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower left the EFCC with two options-beat a retreat or muscle through. It settled for the latter, reinforcing with men and breaching tools against the armoured door.

The operatives relentlessly deployed the tools against the door, expending more than three gruelling hours before they overcame.

“It was very difficult to gain entry. It was almost like a standoff. We had to send for reinforcement of officers and breaching tools from the office. We had to breach the triple-reinforced fire-proof door before we could get in,” head Cybercrime, EFCC, said.

Inside the apartment, the décor, furniture and fittings speak of Koudeih’s high taste that would leave any Arabian prince green with envy. But puzzling is the hideaway between the ceiling and the deck in his bedroom. It provides no comfy, just enough to host and shield anyone while a search lasts.

The wife who was persuaded that her husband was safe and without traces above the ceiling told the prying EFCC operatives that the man they seek has escaped through the window. It was a tale that didn’t stick-escaping through the window from that height with bare hands is stuff only for the fairytale Spiderman. The EFCC operatives were, therefore certain that Koudeih was available and within reach, but puzzled by the fact that he was nowhere to be found, even with the entire apartment having been turned inside-out, exposing a cache of voodoo objects, that was carefully tucked away.

A slight misalignment in the well-manicured ceiling in the bedroom was the lead that unravelled the Lebanese.

“We saw from the ceiling, how he climbed and followed it and helped him down. He had time to breach the ceiling and climbed because of some much time we spent trying to get into his apartment. His apartment has cameras and CCT, so he saw us and knew we were from the EFCC,” head Cybercrime, EFCC, said.

Taken away were his laptop computer and telephone handset, which is currently undergoing a forensic check-up in the anti-corruption agency. More good news is that his ring of trans-national cybercrime network had been busted and he will have his day in court.

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Reacting to arrest, the Acting Chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Magu, said Koudeih and Mompha’s arrests are landmark achievements for the EFCC in its fight against cyber crimes and a “red alert to potential fraudsters.

Speaking in an interactive session with anti-corruption stakeholders at the Lagos Zonal Office of the Commission on Thursday, October 31, 2019, he said,

“The recent arrests of a social media celebrity, Ismaila Mustapha, popularly known as Mompha, and his Lebanese collaborator, Hamza Koudeih, for their alleged involvement in internet-related fraud and money laundering remain a landmark achievement of the EFCC.

“I make bold to tell you that these arrests have further confirmed our commitment to the anti-graft war, while also sending a red alert to potential internet fraudsters.

“I am sure you will be greatly shocked to know that five wristwatches valued at over N60million were recovered from the suspected internet fraudster, Mompha, at the point of arrest.

“Investigation has also revealed that he operates 51 bank accounts in Nigeria with which he acquired properties in Dubai and had laundered about N14billion through a firm known as Ismalob Global Investments Limited. His accomplice, Koudeih, also has two firms namely: THK Services Limited and CHK properties Limited with which he has allegedly laundered about N19billion.

Magu emphasized the fact that the Commission, prior to the arrests of both Mompha and Koudeih, had independently launched intensive investigative actions against the Internet fraudsters, popularly known as Yahoo Yahoo Boys, culminating in various strategic raids on their hideouts.

He further stated that the Commission had embarked on the raids even before the recently concluded collaborative operation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, tagged Operation Rewired- an international operation targeted at the Business Email Compromise, BEC, suspects across the world.

Crime

India police arrest Pigeon on suspicion of being a Pakistan spy

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India police arrest Pigeon on suspicion of being a Pakistan spy

The India police have arrested a pigeon on suspicion that it is a trained spy for Pakistan.

Indian officials said that the pink painted bird carrying a “coded message,” attached to its foot was alleged to have flown from across the border that separates Indian and Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir, according to reports.

Villagers living close to the border in Manyari turned the pigeon over to authorities after catching it along the border, Sky News reported.

Geeta Devi, a resident of the Kathua district of Indian-administered Kashmir, reported that the bird flew into her home Sunday night. Police logged the animal as a “Pak Suspected Spy” and launched an investigation to decipher the message, the outlet reported.

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“We don’t know where the bird has come from. Locals on our side captured it near our fence,” Kathua police’s senior superintendent Shailendra Mishra told the Times of India.

“The pigeon, suspected to be trained in Pakistan for spying, has a ring with letters and numbers written on it,” a police source said.

“Though birds have no boundaries and many fly across international borders during migration, a coded ring tagged to the captured pigeon’s body is a cause of concern as migratory birds have no such rings,” the source added.

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However, in an update, a Pakistani villager has urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return his pigeon, currently being held in India on charges of spying.

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The man identified as Habibullah, who lives just 4km (2.5 miles) from the border, said he flew his pigeons to celebrate Eid festival.

This is not the first time birds have reportedly been used for espionage in the disputed territory in the past.

In 2016, the Indian police arrested a pigeon that was found carrying a warning note to Prime Minister Narendra Modi near the nation’s heavily militarized border with Pakistan.

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In 2013, Indian security forces found a dead falcon fitted with a small camera, and in 2010 another pigeon was detained over spying fears.

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Crime

Police arraign man, 26, over alleged fraud

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The police on Friday arraigned a 26-year-old man, Ilesanmi Ojo, before an Ado-Ekiti Chief Magistrates’ Court over alleged fraud.

The defendant of no fixed address is standing trial on a count charge of the alleged fraud.

The prosecutor, Insp. Oriyomi Akinwale told the court that the defendant committed the offense sometimes in the month of Dec. 2019 at Onala area in Ado-Ekiti.

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He alleged that the defendant, a mechanic, fraudulently obtained the sum of N155,000 from one Pastor Olusegun Olufowose to repair his Sienna vehicle.

Akinwale also alleged that the defendant duplicated the key of a Nissan Pathfinder Jeep with Reg. No. WWW 852 AE, belonging to the complainant without his consent.

He said the offenses contravened Sections 421 and 508 of the Criminal Code, Laws of Ekiti State, 2012.

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The prosecutor asked the court for an adjournment to enable him to study the case file and assemble his witnesses.

The defendant pleaded not guilty.

His counsel, Mr. Olarewaju Oluwasola, urged the court to grant his client bail, with a promise that he would not jump bail.

The Chief Magistrate, Mrs. Olanike Adegoke, granted bail to the defendant in the sum of N100,000 with two sureties in like sum.

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She adjourned the case until June 24 for hearing.

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Crime

You have case to answer, court tells mechanic accused of manslaughter

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An Ikeja High Court on Friday told a mechanic, Taiwo Adeyemi, accused of killing a colleague during a physical scuffle, that he had to defend the manslaughter charge filed against him by the Lagos State Government.

Justice Hakeem Oshodi, delivering a ruling on a no-case submission filed by defence counsel, Mr Adetokunbo Agoro, said the prosecution for the state had presented sufficient evidence before the court to warrant Adeyemi putting up a defence.

According to reports the ruling on the no-case submission was originally slated to have been delivered on May 4 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delivering the ruling online, Justice Oshodi said: “From the evidence laid before the court by the prosecution, there has been no evidence that has been discredited by the defence.

“There is, however, ample evidence on the face of the court’s record which is legally admissible, that links the defendant to the deceased.

“There cannot be any dispute that death occurred after a fight. The defendant is said to be the other party of the fight.

“From the written submission of the defence counsel, he believes that there is no documentary and prima facie case laid out by the prosecution and that the evidence of the first and second prosecution witnesses are hearsay.

“To the court, the prosecution has made out a prima facie case for the defendant to face. Accordingly, the defendant is now called upon to open his defence.”

Following the ruling, the judge adjourned the case until July 27 for defence.

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Reports have it that Adeyemi is charged with manslaughter contrary to Section 227 of the Criminal Law of Lagos 2011.

He was arraigned at the High Court on June 5, 2017.

According to the prosecution led by Mr M.T. Adewoye, the defendant committed the offence at 1.00 p.m. on April 4, 2014, at a mechanic’s shed, located at Ashade Market, Mangoro, Agege, Lagos.

“The defendant had an argument with the deceased, Sikiru Oladeinde; during the scuffle, he hit the deceased with a plank that had nails attached to it.

“Oladeinde sustained some injuries and passed away some days later in hospital,” the prosecutor said.

During the trial, three witnesses testified on behalf of the prosecution — a welder and co-worker of the deceased, Mr Olujimi Ogunleye; the brother of the deceased, Mr Kehinde Oladeinde; and the Investigating Police Officer (IPO), Sgt. Felix Osunbu.

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