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Avellon Williams 

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO- INTERPOL coordinated a global police operation earlier this month that led to the arrest of two suspected online scammers in South Africa.

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A joint law enforcement effort targeting Black Axe and related West African organized crime groups was codenamed Operation Jackal and mobilized 14 countries across four continents.

Black Axe, which is fast becoming a major security threat in the world, is the focus of INTERPOL’s Operation Jackal, the first global operation coordinated by the organization specifically against it.

According to INTERPOL’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC) and national law enforcement agencies, Black Axe and similar groups are responsible for the majority of cyber-enabled financial fraud worldwide.

Just in South Africa, the two suspects arrested were wanted for extorting USD$1.8 million from victims through online scams.

Lifeblood of organized crime

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As part of a coordinated ‘action week’ (26-30 September), police around the world launched enforcement operations against Black Axe members, arresting suspected criminals or money mules, raiding and closing down premises, and seizing assets relating to ongoing investigations.

To assist international law enforcement teams on the ground, two INTERPOL operational support teams were deployed to South Africa and Ireland respectively. This operation resulted in three arrests by the Carabinieri in Campobasso, Italy.

In total, the operation resulted in:

• EUR 1.2 million intercepted in bank accounts;

• 75 arrests;

• 49 property searches;

• 7 INTERPOL Purple Notices, detailing criminal modus operandi;

• 6 INTERPOL Red Notices, issued for internationally-wanted fugitives.

Stephen Kavanagh, executive director of police services, INTERPOL said, “Illicit financial funds are the lifeblood of transnational organized crime, and we have witnessed how groups like Black Axe will channel money gained from online financial scams into other crime areas, such as drugs and human trafficking. These groups demand a global response.” 

Lavish lifestyles

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As a result of the enormous quantity of assets seized, including more than 12,000 SIM cards, 13 analytical reports were generated and more than 70 additional suspects were identified.

Many of the suspects’ lavish lifestyles, which were allegedly funded by defrauding the public and other criminal activities, were on full display at the scene of their arrest. Luxury assets, including a residential property, three cars, and cash worth thousands of dollars, were seized.

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Additionally, INTERPOL successfully deployed its new global stop-payment mechanism known as the Anti-Money Laundering Rapid Response Protocol (ARRP), which is currently in its pilot phase. Through INTERPOL’s Global Financial Crime Task Force, the ARRP enables member countries to intercept illegal proceeds of crime quickly.

Rory Corcoran /Image, BC/

According to IFCACC director Rory Corcoran, “The ARRP is a game-changer in the fight against global financial crime, where speed and international cooperation are crucial to intercepting illicit funds before they disappear overseas.”

“INTERPOL’s Global Financial Crime Task Force has shown remarkable effectiveness in disrupting illicit financial flows, bringing together cyber and finance experts across sectors to track and cut off criminal money trails.”

No borders

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INTERPOL launched Operation Jackal last month in conjunction with a new joint initiative to take action against illicit financial flows that were launched between the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the organization.

According to the United Nations, illicit funds amount to USD$ 2 trillion a year, and less than 1 percent of these funds are intercepted and recovered.

Michael Cryan /TIS/

“Fraud is transnational, there are no borders,” said Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan of Ireland’s Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, which participated in Operation Jackal.

“This is a great example of what can be achieved when international police forces cooperate by sharing intelligence, information and evidence. By working together with support from INTERPOL, the activities of these criminal gangs can be greatly disrupted, making it safer online for everyone.”

During Operation Jackal, the Republic of Korea funded Project CEFIN, a program targeting cyber-enabled financial crimes.

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Among the countries participating in Operation Jackal are Argentina, Australia, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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Avellon Williams

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