A gang of fraudsters have been jailed for a total of more than 43 years for their parts in the theft of millions of pounds from businesses and individuals in the UK and abroad. Following on from a six-month trial, the convictions were handed down between 26 and 28 March for the individuals’ roles in a large-scale “diversion fraud” scam at the heart of which was hacking software.
The individuals sentenced at Blackfriars Crown Court on Thursday 2 May are as follows:
*Bonaventure Sunday Chukwuka, 41, of Roding Gardens in Loughton. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to conceal/transfer criminal property (money laundering). He was also found guilty of possession of a prohibited item (a mobile phone) in prison and sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment
*Andrew Chike Chukwu, 35, of River Road in Buckhurst Hill was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to conceal/transfer criminal property. He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment
*Emmanuel Chike Chukwuka, 27, of Roding Gardens in Loughton was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud. He was found not guilty of conspiracy to money launder and sentenced to two years and eight months’ imprisonment
*Christian Chukwuka, 39, of Latchetts Shaw in Basildon was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to conceal/transfer criminal property. He was sentenced to five years and nine months’ imprisonment
*Mansoor Zaman, 27, of no fixed abode was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to conceal/transfer criminal property. He was sentenced to six years and nine months’ imprisonment
*Queen Chukwuka, 32, of Roding Gardens in Loughton was found guilty of acquiring/possessing criminal property and sentenced to a community order
*Grace Plange Chukwu, 39, of River Road in Buckhurst Hill was found guilty of acquiring/possessing criminal property for which she received a conditional discharge
*Ionut Relu Muresan, 34, of Long Deacon Road, London E4 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to money launder and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment
*Mohammed Rahman, 31, of Garnies Close in Peckham was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to conceal/transfer criminal property. Rahman will be sentenced at the same court on Monday 13 May
Details of the case
The court heard during the trial that Bonaventure Chukwuka led an organised criminal gang that targeted businesses and individuals by hacking into their e-mail accounts and stealing large sums of money.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service’s Fraud Squad launched an investigation after receiving referrals from Action Fraud. Detectives identified a total of 228 separate frauds committed by the same network between 2014 and 2018 and totalling £10,112,312.54. A total of 69 victims provided evidence during the trial. Many of them have been unable to recover their losses.
Several victims were traced with the help of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau whose Action Fraud service allows both domestic and overseas victims to report fraud online.
The gang used computer malware to intercept and steal the log-in details of e-mail accounts belonging to businesses and private individuals worldwide with the intent of identifying high-value financial transactions. They then intercepted e-mails about these transactions and sent spoof e-mails, duping the victims into paying the funds into alternative UK-based ‘mule’ bank accounts (ie accounts obtained and controlled by the fraudsters for this purpose – instead of the intended recipient).
A total of 165 ‘mule’ accounts, opened with fake identification documents or bought from unscrupulous account holders, were identified by detectives. They were used to receive the proceeds of the diversion fraud, whereby the money was quickly transferred to other accounts, some of which were untraceable. The fraudsters also used the funds from ‘mule’ accounts to buy and export thousands of pounds of baby milk to Nigeria to launder the money.
One of the fraud victims was a small construction company with a small team of employees based in the South West of England. It was defrauded out of nearly £13,000 by the group in 2017 and had to close down as a direct result.
Arrested on suspicion of fraud
Bonaventure, Emmanuel and Christian Chukwuka were arrested on 26 January last year on suspicion of fraud. They were charged the following day.
Zaman and Rahman sourced ‘mule’ accounts. Zaman was arrested at Gatwick Airport on 4 April 2018. Rahman was arrested on 11 April.
Following the arrest of the Chukwuka brothers, Andrew Chike Chukwu was identified as a significant associate. He was arrested on 11 April 2018.
Queen Chukwuka and Grace Chukwu – the wives of Bonaventure and Andrew – received funds into their own personal bank accounts.
Officers will now begin confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act in a determined bid to try and recover the money that was stolen.
Unscrupulous, organised and prolific
Speaking about the case, DC Chris Collins of the Falcon Fraud Squad said: “These fraudsters were unscrupulous, organised and prolific. Over a period of four years, they stole millions of pounds from unsuspecting businesses and individuals and lived an extremely comfortable life with the profits. The frauds were brazen. This gang clearly thought they could continue with their criminal lifestyle without detection. However, arrests followed on from what was a complex investigation carried out diligently by the Met’s Falcon Fraud Squad, with hundreds of fraud reports being reviewed by detectives trawling through financial records.”
Collins continued: “The evidence amassed by detectives and presented during the trial pointed towards a large-scale, planned fraud operation which involved payments arranged between two parties being successfully intercepted and diverted by this gang into ‘mule’ accounts set up for the purpose of receiving stolen funds. I hope this conviction sends a strong message to online fraudsters: we have the ways and means of tracing you and we will seek to bring you to justice. We would advise anyone conducting financial business by e-mail to verify the bank account to which they’re sending their money by contacting the intended recipient and taking precautions to ensure the money’s definitely going to the right place.”
Commander Karen Baxter, the national police co-ordinator for economic crime at the City of London Police, said: “As the national lead force for fraud, Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau are responsible for ensuring that the UK can better identify, investigate and detect fraud and cyber crime. As a result of the reports made to Action Fraud, the Falcon Unit has been able to achieve justice for the hundreds of victims affected by these substantial crimes. This case is a shining example of law enforcement using a joined-up approach to combat fraud and cyber crime.”
*Mohammad Taleb (who also went by the name Joeshep De Souza), 30 (29.12.1988) of Garnies Close in Peckham was found not guilty of conspiracy to money launder and entering into a money laundering arrangement (contrary to Section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act) after a trial