It's a rip-off as old as the internet itself... an email from a Nigerian prince promising millions of dollars in exchange for a small fee.
You might think we would have outsmarted them by now.. But what started out as a simple scam from West Africa has evolved into a global enterprise, conning people on an industrial scale.
According to the FBI, worldwide scamming syndicates are now making billions of dollars a year from fraud, drug trafficking and money laundering in more than 80 countries.
Romance scams are at the heart of this ruthless business.

Many victims are left destitute. Others end up in jail on death row, after being exploited as mules to launder money or transport drugs. 
In this investigation spanning three continents, reporter Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop tracks down the scammers in Africa and traces a highly organised crime network around the world.


Reporters: Maria do you want to talk to the Australian press?

Maria why are you covering yourself ?

Maria do you have a message for your four sons?

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP, REPORTER: Maria Exposto thought she'd found true love online.

Instead she was ensnared in an elaborate, international crime network.

reporters: "Maria! Maria!"

Maria, you're smiling?

Are you doing OK? Are you confident you'll get off these charges?"

Maria , do you maintain your innocence?"

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The Sydney grandmother, known to her family as Bella, was sentenced to death last year for drug trafficking. 
JO PINTO, SISTER: This is out of character. It's not Bella. Bella is a devoted mum, a devoted wife, but drugs? Uh-uh. No, not my Bella.

PROF MONICA WHITTY, CYBER SECURITY, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE: She was a textbook romance scam victim. She was not someone that would get herself involved knowingly, um, in any way, in drug trafficking.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Maria Exposto fell in love with a man who didn't exist.

She believed she was talking to Captain Daniel Smith, an American Special Forces soldier stationed in Afghanistan.

In fact, she was seduced by criminals using stolen photos of a retired British naval officer.

PROF MONICA WHITTY, CYBER SECURITY, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE: In reality, Maria was talking to probably more than one criminal. Probably a gang of criminals. Um, most likely, from what I've looked at in this case, West Africans and in my view, probably Ghanaian West Africans as well.

NAPOLEON EXPOSTO: hello, yeah, it's her, Hi Mum, oh Mum I've got ABC News here with me

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP:Maria spoke to us from prison in Malaysia about how she was duped.

MARIA EXPSOTO: At the time, I was blind. Do you understand what I mean? I was blindly in love with Daniel. Every day he sing to me five times a day. He sing love songs to me five times a day and then he make me fall in love with him because of his bullshitting thing, and then make me fall in love with him.

American Voice: (19th August 2013): I want our love to flourish with unrequited fire and passion while we're apart

American Voice (1st Sept 2013) I yearn to look into your eyes the way that lovers do, and hear you whisper, "I love you."

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The scammers bombarded her with declarations of love followed by pleas for money.

American Voice (15th September) I have searched my heart and find out that you are not happy in your married life, therefore I want to ask your hand in marriage. 

(16th Sept 2013) Thank you my love for your answer, I am so happy my love...I will love and cherish you like no other man.... when are you going out honey, what about the Western Union, when are you going to send the money? 
NAPOLEON EXPOSTO, SON: She would just give me a form, just go can you send this money to my friend through Western Union and I'd just be like yeah OK sure but then I started reading them after a while and then they were going to one place was Ghana. And I'm just like Ghana? What friend does she have there?

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Maria sent more than $18,000 to Ghana.

Within a year, she was broke, but the scammers weren't finished with her.

PROF MONICA WHITTY: What happens with victims who have been scammed is they get put on a suckers' list. And being on the suckers' list means that that's sold on the dark web, and other criminals will use it . In Maria's case, I think that's probably what's happened is that, perhaps, other people have either got involved that have joined these gangs or, her details have been sold off to the next highest bidder, , to be able to be used as a drug mule.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Maria was lured to Shanghai to sign Daniel Smith's retirement papers

She was met by a man who said he was an Army colleague.

He gave her a bag to take back to Australia.

In transit in Malaysia, Customs officers found more than a kilo of the drug ice sewn into the lining.

PROF MONICA WHITTY: I entered this case purely professionally to examine this as an expert witness, and I didn't make up my mind until I went through all the, data available, and until I interviewed Maria. She didn't have to have her bags checked. She volunteered. She said, "Here, have my bags have a look". I've looked at this case for so long now, and in so much detail, it's one of those things that you think, um - oh, sorry. I didn't expect to get emotional about it. You just think, if you could take that moment back again for her, you know?

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Professor Monica Whitty is a global authority on the psychology of romance scams.

PROF MONICA WHITTY: The criminals involved in this are definitely masters of manipulation, this is their job, right? And they're very good at it, and they're very proud of being good at it, as well.

DEPUTY COMMISSIONER NEIL GAUGHAN, Australian Federal Police: I think they're looking for people that are vulnerable. They're looking for people that are probably to some extent lonely, they're looking for engagement. And that is why they utilise social media. They're organised. They're very well organised and they're very well resourced.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The rampant theft of images is central to the business of scamming.

Retired US Colonel Bryan Denny has had his image stolen and used in thousands of fake social media profiles.

COLONEL BRYAN DENNY (Retired): Military personnel are highly regarded. We're seen as trustworthy, dependable. So, over the course of the last two years, I've reported over 3,000 accounts to Facebook of scammers using my pictures to steal money from women around the globe.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Bryan Denny is among countless military personnel whose photos have been used by scammers

COLONEL BRYAN DENNY (Retired): This is being done at kind of an industrial scale, and how do you stop it? What do you do about it? These are thieves that are using images to take advantage of people on a global scale.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Bryan Denny has trawled through groups on Facebook where scammers trade skills and fake identities.

COLONEL BRYAN DENNY (Retired): They offer Facebook profiles for sale, they offer pictures of uniformed servicemen for sale, they offer the backstory and kind of how you get started. So, it's all right there. It's in plain sight, it's not hidden

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The fraudsters advertise so-called "formats": day-by-day scripts to run their scams.

They sell photo-editing skills.

In secret groups on Facebook's instant messaging service, WhatsApp, they trade bank accounts for laundering stolen money.

COLONEL BRYAN DENNY (Retired): I'm angry to say the least. It's hugely frustrating knowing that you're talking to a company like Facebook and you're working to help people kind of them enforce their own community standards. And yet, on Facebook, they're advertising, there are people that are advertising, "Hey, this is how you take advantage of people."

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Each week, Bryan Denny hears from women across the world who've been sucked in by the scammers.

COLONEL BRYAN DENNY (Retired): They are trying to confirm or deny that I'm a guy that they've had a relationship with and have sent money to, they've committed everything, all their financial resources, you know and now to find out that it's not true, it was all fake and they've been duped emotionally and they're out large sums of money. It's traumatic. It's traumatic.

CHYREL MUZIC: I was totally in love with him. Totally besotted. Just you know, really l-I'd never loved anyone like I'd loved him. I-I really, you know, and he's ... of course it was Bryan's looks, and I was just, yeah. I thought he was, I thought all my dreams had come true. I only found out about three weeks ago who he is, a 29-year-old Nigerian.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Queenslander Chyrel Muzic was seduced by a scammer using Bryan Denny's images.

Over two years, she sent him 40-thousand dollars.

CHYREL MUZIC: It was all borrowed. All, um, from, I borrowed it o out of my bank card. I made a personal loan and then when that run out I started getting 'em off, um, cash converters

BRYAN DENNY: Hey how are you, I feel like the introduction to a point I'm Bryan


BRYAN DENNY: Hey Chryel how are you?

CHYRAL MUZIC: Good. I've been in love with you for two years. (laughs).

BRYAN DENNY: That ah, takes your breath away, well I ..

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: This is the first time Bryan Denny has come face to face with a victim.

BRYAN DENNY: Quite frankly I wanted to meet and say that I'm sorry that this happened to you and you were taken advantage of

CHYREL MUZIK: But I don't blame you in any- I don't- I honestly don't blame you in any sense of the word and I don't even really hate the scammer or anything you know what I mean 

CHYREL MUZIK: I tell you something now. He gave you some service. He has been, no, no. I'm not kidding you. He's been the most beautiful person, that God ever put breath into.

BRYAN DENNY: Right. except maybe the part, where for two years, he pretended to be me, you know, that, that, that you could say, he was kind of putting you wrong there but uh, , this is big business. They look for people that, that are big hearted and generous, and you fit the bill.

Yeah. So yeah.

Just be cautious going forward alright

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Both Chyrel and Bryan are devoted to exposing the criminals' tactics. 
COLONEL BRYAN DENNY (Retired): These guys are thieves. These guys are cockroaches, and when you shine a light on them, cockroaches scatter

CHYREL MUZIC: I just want to have other woman who are getting men, and there are thousands of them, getting men talking to them, romancing them, and then asking them for money - please don't give it to them, because they don't love you, they don't care about you, they are only after the money.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Four Corners travelled to Ghana in West Africa to find out who's behind the booming business of online fraud. 

This former slave colony is one of Africa's fastest growing economies.

There are more phones here than people and internet is cheap, so online crime is easy money and authorities are battling to keep up. 
ABU ISSAH, ECONOMIC AND ORGANISED CRIME OFFICE, GHANA: Those who indulge in this as the perpetrators, they are most of them are unemployed. But they are very sharp, they are very intelligent, because it takes someone with an intellect to sit down and even fancy how to get into this activity and also to blindfold, or hoodwink someone to believing whatever story he's putting across.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Many of the scammers start out in internet cafes like this one.

They're known as cafe boys.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: what are you guys up to in here, on the computers ?
Sometimes we come to check our Facebooks and a lot of things

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: I notice though on your computers you all have female names., Jessica, Mary.


SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Why do you log in with female names?

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: I think I scared him off 

We just come here, we just get some money from the white mans to get some food to eat.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: They're on dating sites to chat up men and they're remarkably candid about what they do .

I mean some of them could give you 2,000 US dollars. Maybe you tell him you want 5,000 US dollars or 5,000 pounds or 5,000 Australian dollars

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Do you chat with men in Australia?

Oh yeah, I can even show you the chat

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Sure, yes please, show me 

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: I can see here he says "Want to play now. I'm horny."

Yeah you he mean like want to play video cam with me.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Videocam? To do what?

To do fun.


Sex stuff and other things. And I will make sure to make him happy, happy like he will fall in love with me.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: He thinks you're a woman.


SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP : And so, what do you do with him , does he show you himself?

He shows me himself. Even I see.


Full naked.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: He doesn't see anything in the video?

He doesn't see anything. 

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: On the streets of the capital Accra, this 27-year-old who calls himself 'Kweiku' hustles for his living.

KWEIKU: How much do you want to pay? 

On a good night he makes the equivalent of twenty dollars selling perfume 

WOMAN: what price?


WOMAN: Let me give you 70

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: It's a fraction of what he can make online.

KWEIKU: Basically they call us fraud boys or game boys because we do fraud to get money. We scam.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: From his tiny flat, Kweiku and his friend, who goes by the nickname 'Skidoo', use stolen photos to create fake identities to fool their victims.

KWEIKU: I am Johnny and I am a military man in the U-S. Sometimes I'm in Palestine, sometimes I'm in Iraq and we are helping keeping peace in that country because there's a war going on . So that's my main occupation - online. I search for clients, I want somebody to be my lover, yeah my fiance and all that

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: You said you search for clients. Yeah. What's that?

SKIDOO: The word client is used for people you meet online.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: You don't like to use the word victim?

SKIDOO: No. Victim doesn't sound pretty.

KWEIKU: A client is, is somebody, a business partner who, who maybe, who bring money or something. That's why you use the word client. Some are divorced, and some are, their husbands are now dead and, and all that

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: So the best targets are people who are divorced or widowed?

KWEIKU: Who are divorced or widowed. Yes.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Their husbands are dead?

KWEIKU: eah, they're dead or divorced, yes.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Kweiku's current target is a Mexican woman in the U-S. 

KWEIKU: I think she doesn't have the education, where she also ... She's not fluent in the English like that. So, I was lucky enough to meet somebody who was .wasn't. I proposed to her, and we were getting along. But, since I wanted some capital, so I asked her for money. In all, I think she sent me money about $2,000.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP Kweiku returns a call from the woman while we're filming and pretends his webcam isn't working. 
KWEIKU: I really wanna come around this Christmas so I can come and see you

WOMAN: What about the plane ticket that your friend bought for you

KWEIKU: My friend booked the flight ticket and I'm not hearing from my friend anymore. It's really hard times here baby. I'm trying to video chat with you so you can see me but the camera is not working properly. I don't know.

WOMAN: It say right here the camera is off baby.

KWEIKU: Can you see me now? Mm oh my God I love you baby, I'm gonna call you back.

WOMAN You want to see?.

KWEIKU: I gotta call you back okay baby? Yeah, mm. Oh my god, that's my tits I'm gonna call you back later tonight so we can have fun OK?

WOMAN: Ok baby

KWEIKU: Alright I love you ,bye 

KWEIKU: She's falling in love with the voice, because the same voice that.I proposed to her, the same voice that I tell her she's beautiful, the same voice that when I'm making love to her. You know, sometimes I back it off, when you're having sex, those voices 'mm, ah, yeah, you know,' she likes that.

SKIDOO: Women like men who are caring, you understand. If you're not giving them money, you always call them, "How you doing? Oh, I wanted to check on you. Have you eaten all the stuffs?" Like, pampering that way. You understand. She's there. She's online looking for a partner. Maybe it's been long since she met someone like that. It's been long since someone pampered her. It's been long since someone told her sweet things. You understand.

KWEIKU: Sometimes you will be talking to the person and you can even feel pity for that person. Wow. This person ah, she's crying and all that. We feel pity, but you too, you need money.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Are you committing crime?

KWEIKU: I don't see it to be a, a crime because, uh, it's, it's online. I'm trying to get money, and the same, the same person is also trying to get money,

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: For them it's purely business and taking what's owed to them.

SKIDOO: The white people, they came down here to colonise us, took what belongs to us, they sent our great, great grandfathers there, mistreated them, treated them like slaves. You understand. They did a lot of harm to them. They've done us bad before and we think it's time to pay them back.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Superstition runs deep in Ghana.

At a shrine on the outskirts of the capital, Nana Agradaa casts spells for her customers to help them make money.

NANA AGRADAA: I am a fetish priestess, I am a fetish priestess

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: She's also a businesswoman

Cafe boys pay Nana to deliver them the power to manipulate their victims.

Nana and her assistant show us how it works.

NANA AGRADAA: SUBTITLES: Welcome and how may I help you.

Nana, I've some clients abroad and I've been asking them for money but they are not forthcoming. I want you to help me.

NANA AGRADAA: SUBTITLES Did you bring their picture? Give them to me.

Get up. Put your consultation fee in the bowl.

NANA AGRADAA: I come before you my ancestors and the gods. Take some alcohol. We need your assistance now. Hear our plea. He has some clients and needs money from them. Do hear his prayer. 

NANA AGRADAA: He came to me that he brought, eh, some white people to me. They were three. Two ladies and one man. And he, the boy wants them to send him some amount. Because he has been asking money from her and him, but they have not paid the money. So when he came, I was doing it for him. So I give him some soap to go and use it so that when he's using it to bath , he will say anything that he wants the white lady or the white man to do for him. So that is what I was doing for him.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Ghana's Economic and Organised Crime Office is working with the FBI and Interpol to confront the cyber fraud industry.

Head of Prosecutions, Abu Issah says the cafe boys are only entry-level criminals.

ABU ISSAH, ECONOMIC AND ORGANISED CRIME OFFICE, GHANA These are just unemployed youth who try to do all that they can to sustain a living. But the big guys would never go to the internet cafe. They will sit in the comfort of their rooms, have their mobile telephone broadband network, and do it in their own comfort. Even most of the bad guys, or the big fishes, put out, or send the small boys on an errand to undertake preliminary, uh, activities for them, so they graduate from that particular little boys to the big guys in town.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Abu Issah says formidable international crime organisations have taken hold in Ghana.

ABU ISSAH, ECONOMIC AND ORGANISED CRIME OFFICE, GHANA We have Nigerian nationals and other West African nationals who come here and definitely they have their Ghanaian collaborators or counterparts who indulge in this and then they share ideas, making it so sophisticated even to track down.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: What started in West Africa has grown into a global network. Scammers here are trading their victims with criminal syndicates which are exploiting them for drug trafficking and money laundering. Police are only starting to understand how sophisticated and far reaching this is. 

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: In Toronto Canada, detectives Michael Kelly and Tim Trotter have uncovered the inner workings of a global crime network which has grown out of the internet cafes of West Africa. 

DET CONST MICHAEL KELLY, TORONTO POLICE: It's alleged that they're involved in everything from fraud and money laundering to drug trafficking, to human trafficking, to prostitution rings, all manners of criminality.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: At the centre of their investigation was this man, Akohomen Ighedoise.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The Canadian Nigerian dual national was arrested at Toronto Airport in 2014 when Customs found him with a fake credit card.

DET CONST MICHAEL KELLY, TORONTO POLICE: He was placed under arrest by Peel Regional Police here in Canada, and I wound up writing a search warrant for the electronic devices found in his possession.

DET CONST TIM TROTTER, TORONTO POLICE: Their contents after examination opened us up to the innermost workings of the organisation.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: They say Ighedoise's chat history revealed he was coordinating a vast fraud and money laundering network.

DET CONST MICHAEL KELLY, TORONTO POLICE: It was thousands upon thousands of lines with him in communicating with other conspirators all around the world about fraud scams of all types, targeting victims all over the world. Talking about how to control their victims, how to best carry out the fraud scams. It gave us a real sense of the scope and scale of how large it was, and the nature, and how big the operations were that Mr. Ighedoise and his associates were carrying out, again, targeting people from Canada, to the United States, to Europe, to even mentioning Australians.

DET CONST TIM TROTTER, TORONTO POLICE: There were emails that indicated their ability to have peer review of each other's criminality. And, there were exchanges of suggestions of, no, no, no, use this letter, it's better, use this hallmark on your documents. It's much more effective. And, so you realise, okay, we're up against a machine here.

MICHAEL KELLY TO TIM TROTTER: One of his colleagues reaches out to him and says brother can you get me a HSBC bank account for Shanghai. China. 

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Ighedoise was the treasurer of the Canada zone of an organization called the Neo Black Movement of Africa, also known as Black Axe.

It started as a started as a university fraternity in Nigeria in the 70s.

It likes to be known for charitable works but it's earned a reputation in Nigeria as a violent cult.

DET CONST TIM TROTTER: They'd put on this happy face of a social, political brotherhood, but back home, the very same members that organisation would happily post on Facebook, pictures of people being slaughtered in markets, hacked to death in front of their school. The Nigerian contemporary media was full of accounts of people, cult members or members of a neo-black movement executing friend and foe alike

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Black Axe has spread to 26 countries including Italy, where its recognized by authorities as the Nigerian mafia for running drug ,human and sex trafficking networks.

Michael Kelly and Tim Trotter discovered the group has become a global giant in online fraud.

DET CONST TIM TROTTER: What we found was something very unique in criminal organisations, we found an organisation that had strong central control, that had feeders everywhere and then would take in all this information and essentially assess and find the best practice, best criminal practice with which to victimise people all over the world.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The detectives say Ighedoise channelled funds through a worldwide network.

DET CONST MICHAEL KELLY: He was directing individuals to send money to China, to Malaysia, to Japan, to South Korea, throughout Europe. Literally, all across the globe. He was the plug in for an entire network of people behind him that were out there committing crimes and targeting people all across the world and were coming to him to get bank accounts, to launder those funds, to quickly get me a bank account so I can receive money from this victim here or another country around the world. He really was a real keystone in the world of transnational fraud and money laundering.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Ighedoise was jailed in Canada for fraud.

He's also wanted by the FBI, which has indicted him on money laundering charges over an alleged five-billion-dollar fraud scheme. 
DET CONST MICHAEL KELLY: We in law enforcement have been dealing with the elements of West African organised crime for quite some time. But I don't think that we've really pieced it together on the truly transnational stage that it truly deserves. West African organised crime might be the largest transnational organised crime entity out there but nobody's really heard of it.

STEVE BAKER, FORMER DIRECTOR US FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION: What the Toronto Police Service really did was demonstrate that there is this international network of lots of money with lots of frauds and interconnected parts. I think that initial reaction is to think of people sending these stupid emails of the Nigerian prince, and they don't realise from that that you're really talking about very violent criminals that are very organised enforcing this stuff on a global, organised scale. They're not dumb, they're very smart, they're very organised and there's huge numbers of them.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Former U-S Federal Trade Commission Director Steve Baker has watched West African crime organisations move into massive corporate scams.

In what's called business email compromise, crime groups hack company email accounts.

STEVE BAKER: Somebody, say the chief financial officer, will get an email that looks like it's from her boss, saying instead of paying the supplier the normal way, this time we want you to wire that money to this other bank account. So, she believes that she's responding to the person she works for, and she's really sending the money off to the crooks without realising it.

ADAM MEYERS, VICE PRESIDENT OF INTELLIGENCE, CROWDSTRIKE: West African cybercrime is the biggest threat that we see on the internet today. We're looking at over $12 billion in five years. It eclipses all the other threats that we've seen that are financially motivated.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: American cyber intelligence firm CrowdStrike investigates the email scams and finds the money trail quickly runs cold

ADAM MEYERS TO STAFF: This is the social media profile of one of the attackers that we've been tracking here

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: They've found romance scam victims are often tricked into laundering the stolen funds.

ADAM MEYERS: They use the accounts of these romance victims. That becomes the highway that the money takes to go from the victim to the criminal. Gone unchecked, this is not going to go away. I think some of the things we've been seeing from law enforcement over the last year are great. There's been a number of arrests in Ghana, in the U.S., in Canada, and the U.K. There are arrests all over the world occurring, and we need to keep the pressure on.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP PIECE TO CAMERA: The cyber syndicates have proliferated all over the world, including here in Australia. And there's one case that shows just how brazen the scammers have become. It involves a romance scam victim who was drawn into a global drug trafficking scheme. And it was operating right here, under the noses of Australian authorities here at Villawood Detention Centre.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: In April 2014, the NSW Crime Commission and Police launched this raid at the Villawood Detention Centre.

POLICE OFFICER: I'm currently present at Villawood Detention Centre .. we're here for the purpose of executing two search warrants, Commonwealth Search Warrants 2014

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: They were looking for evidence of a global drug smuggling plot using a scam victim as a mule.

OFFICER: "You can see a slit in the mattress" In there is a mobile phone

OFFICER: Numerous persons names and phone numbers a lot being international numbers 

OFFICER: a couple of phones, Nokia mobile phones

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The target of the raid was Nigerian, Patrick Nweke, a convicted drug importer who'd been in immigration detention more than a year fighting deportation.

POLICE OFFICER: I have Dirichukwu Patrick Nweke who is here at Bankstown Police station currently under arrest in relation to the allegation that he was participating in coordinating and aiding the importation of a border-controlled substance, namely cocaine.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Nweke had been under investigation for five months as he conspired with Nigerian contacts around the world.

DAVID BARROW, BARRISTER FOR PETER STRAND: They seemed to be like a vertically integrated company. it was an organisation that sourced the drugs, found the couriers, um, facilitated their transport, collected the drugs at the end. It was a, a well tried, um, and, and I think well practised approach.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Nweke's mule was American disability pensioner Peter Strand, who'd lost $400, 000 to romance scams.

PETER STRAND: I was hoodwinked, I was coerced, convinced or otherwise led to believe that something was going to happen that never happened. It was extremely well organized.

DAVID BARROW, He I think, um, was identified as the type of gullible person who, um, was vulnerable to this type of manipulation.

Phone ringing 


SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Police intercepted Nweke's communications on 10 mobile services he used secretly inside Villawood.

He called contacts in South Africa, India, Brazil and Nigeria setting up the drug smuggling operation.

PATRICK NWEKE: I don't like to be on the frontline; I put other people there. 

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: They'd targeted Peter Strand because he was broke, sick and frail.

Male: The man is the best. 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.


SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Nweke and his accomplice in Nigeria discussed the scam used to suck Strand in.

PATRICK NWEKE: Does this man know what he is doing? I hope he knows what he's doing.

Male: What they are told is that they are carrying chemicals used in producing money."


Male: "That is what the marketers tell them. Do you understand?"


PETER STRAND: It was supposed to be money cleaning, cash cleaning agent of some type. Now there's 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.

DAVID BARROW: It was a bizarre and, um, to an outsider, unbelievable, um, thing. But he wasn't the only one who fell for it.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: On the 29th April 2014 Peter Strand flew into Sydney International Airport carrying a bag he'd brought from Brazil.

PETER STRAND: I was in the transit area and someone came to me in a uniform and said, "Is this your name?" I said, "Yes." "Then you should follow me".

PETER STRAND: Why am I going through this ?

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Customs officers found two protein powder containers holding about 2.5 kilograms of cocaine in his bag.

PETER STRAND: When they opened it and tested it and told me what it was, I was in complete shock, complete shock. I had no idea what to say. I was just, I can't believe this is happening.

POLICE OFFICER: You have been arrested today for importation of a commercial quantity of an illegal drug into Australia and for possession of that drug and because of the quantity you intended to supply that drug , do you understand?


PETER STRAND: I had no idea what was in the bag whatsoever

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Peter Strand was one of 44 drug mules arrested at Australian airports after being drawn in by online criminal syndicates.

After 18 months in jail, Strand was found not guilty.

His puppet master Patrick Nweke was convicted of drug importation and will be sentenced next month.

PETER STRAND: It was extremely well organised. That's mind boggling, absolutely mind boggling and let alone out of Australia, but out of a detention facility. How is that possible? How is that possible?

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Five months ago, in a separate case, police arrested another Nigerian detainee at Villawood who was allegedly running a three-million-dollar fraud syndicate from inside.

DEPUTY COMMISSIONER NEIL GAUGHAN: We just need to be aware and continually be on, on the lookout for new scams as they come across. There's no doubt these organised criminal groups, West Africans as well as everybody else will change their modus operandi and again will start to target Australians in a big way. .

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: In Ghana online scamming is a way of life for many who are poor and unemployed.

SKIDOO: The bottom line is, bottom line, you've got to survive. If you want me to put that, put it that way. It's might be somehow painful seeing someone who is old enough to be your mother going through that. But it, bottom line still remains, we've got to survive.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Some see it as a legitimate way to build their future. 

ANNOUNCER: "Let's hear it. Make some noise!

KWEIKU: In 20 years, I want to become a big musician worldwide. A businessman, companies and employ the youth some who are not working, so I can create jobs for the youth. Because that is the main thing that is holding us back with the youth. That's why we are indulging ourselves in this scamming and all that.

SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: As long as scammers are hooking victims, they'll be feeding what the FBI calls some of the most aggressive and expansionist crime organisations in the world.

CHYREL MUZIK: They will keep going until they rob you blind. They'll keep going until they take everything from you

COLONEL BRYAN DENNY (retired): As long as people send money to people they don't know, this kind of thing will continue to happen. this isn't something that you can wait out. It's not going to go away

STEVE BAKER: This is in our neighbourhoods, this is our friends, this is our neighbours, these are people we know, this is on our block, this is in our apartment building and the total amounts of money going out are staggering. Coming to terms with the fact these really are huge, organised, worldwide enterprises is 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.



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