A convicted internet fraudster Hope Olusegun Aroke who is serving a 24-year jail term at the Kirikiri Maximum Correctional Centre in Lagos, has allegedly masterminded a “mega scam” from a maximum-security prison worth at least $1m (£773,000). $100 million scam while in custody.
Anti-corruption officials said Hope Olusegun Aroke used a “network of accomplices” for the fraud.
He was arrested in 2012 and has been serving a 24-year sentence at the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison. But a preliminary investigation shows that he still had access to the internet.
Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) In a statement said it had received intelligence about Aroke’s scam and was faced with the “riddle” of how he was able to “continue to ply his ignoble trade” from inside the Lagos prison.
Following his arrest in 2012, the EFCC said the then Malaysia-based student was the “arrow head of an intricate web of internet fraud schemes that traverse two continents”.
EFCC said its preliminary investigation had revealed that, “against standard practice”, Aroke had been given access to the internet and his phone. He had also been admitted to the Nigeria Police Hospital Falomo in Lagos for an “undisclosed ailment” and had been able to leave the facility to stay in hotels, meet with his wife and children, and attend social functions.
He had used the fictitious name Akinwunmi Sorinmade to open two bank accounts and bought a luxury car and homes during his time in prison, the EFCC added. He had also been “in possession of his wife’s bank account token in prison, which he used to freely transfer funds.”
The EFCC also said it is also investigating why he was admitted to hospital and how he was able to travel to hotels and other places.
The Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison is managed by the Nigerian Correctional Service, who are yet to comment on the case.
Case prompts suspicion over corrupt officials.This is a case that has shocked many Nigerians: how a convict serving time at the country’s foremost maximum security prison was allegedly able to operate freely.
Many believe that Aroke could have pulled off alleged his exploits only with the help of corrupt prison officials.
Illicit proceeds make internet fraudsters in Nigeria wealthy and they could easily bribe vulnerable prison officials who are poorly paid.
So far, no-one has been suspended even though it is a major breach of security.
The anti-corruption agency, which put Aroke behind bars, has called it a “riddle” and has promised a thorough investigation.
It is not clear if the agency has managed to change his prison guards, as it is outside its jurisdiction.
And the other question many Nigerians are asking is: Of the many wealthy prisoners – politicians and internet fraudsters – in jail, who else has “bribed” his way out, enjoying a lifestyle fit for royalty?
The convict, who is the subject of an investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes reportedly pulled the heist using a network of accomplices.
Aroke was one of two Malaysia-based Nigerian undergraduate fraudsters arrested by the EFCC in 2012 at the 1004 Housing Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos, following a tip-off.
The EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday, said the lid on his latest fraud exploits from the Correctional Centre was blown open following intelligence received by the anti-graft agency.
According to the EFCC, a preliminary investigation revealed that the convict, against established standard practice, had access to the internet and mobile phone in the Correctional Centre.
EFCC investigation also revealed that Aroke used a fictitious name, Akinwunmi Sorinmade, to open two accounts with First Bank Plc and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
He also allegedly bought a property at Fountain Spring Estate, Lekki, Lagos, in 2018 for N22million and a Lexus RX 350 2018 model registered in his wife’s name, Maria Aroke.
The convict was also in possession of his wife’s bank account token in prison, which he used to freely transfer funds.
During his arrest, the Okene indigene had claimed to be a student of Computer Science at the Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan University, Malaysia, but the commission’s investigation fingered him as the arrowhead of an intricate web of internet fraud scheme that traversed two continents.
The statement read, “When Aroke was arrested, a search conducted by the EFCC operatives on his apartment led to the recovery of several items such as laptops, iPad, traveling documents, checkbooks, flash drives, internet modem, and three exotic cars – a Mercedes Benz Jeep, One 4Matic Mercedes Benz Car, and a Range Rover Sport SUV.
“He was eventually convicted by Justice Lateefa Okunnu of a Lagos State High Court on two counts of obtaining money by false pretense, cheques cloning, wire transfer, and forgery. He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment on each of the two counts.”