Bitcoin facilitates a Nigerian-Kenyan US$220 million laundering scheme

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  • The trio bought bitcoins worth KSh5 billion (US$43 million) in the UAE, the United States and several other European countries, including at Kenya’s crypto exchange platform, BitPesa
  • The three Nigerians were linked to Ksh25.6 billion (US$220 million) moved into Kenya between October and November 2020
  • The Nigerians involved in the scandal are Mr Olubunmi Akinyemiju, Mr Eghosasere Nehikhare and Mr Olufemi Olukunmi Demuren
  • From the US-based exchange Binance, the three bought cryptocurrencies worth $36,353,728 (Sh4.2 billion). They also went ahead to buy bitcoins worth $7,246,582 (Sh839.5 million) from Busha

On April 27, 2022, a report of a multi-billion dollar money-laundering syndicate surfaced from the asset recovery agency drawn from the financial crime and investigation unit, involving top companies and directors from both Nigeria and Kenya.
The culprits are said to have used bitcoin to secrete their transactions. According to a statement filed by European investigators, the Nigerians involved in the scandal are Mr Olubunmi Akinyemiju, Mr Eghosasere Nehikhare and Mr Olufemi Olukunmi Demuren. The three Nigerians were linked to Ksh25.6 billion (US$220 million) moved into Kenya between October and November 2020.

The trio bought bitcoins worth KSh5 billion (US$43 million) in the UAE, the United States and several other European countries, including at Kenya’s crypto exchange platform, BitPesa. At the current market value, the three bought approximately 1,113 bitcoins.

Binance, Busha and BitPesa exchange platforms

Between August and September 2020, the Nigerians purchased bitcoins on the crypto exchange platforms BitPesa, Binance, Nigeria’s Busha and several others.

From the US-based exchange Binance, the three bought cryptocurrencies worth $36,353,728 (Sh4.2 billion). They also went ahead to buy bitcoins worth $7,246,582 (Sh839.5 million) from Busha. Ongoing investigations are yet to reveal the actual bitcoins that the Nigerians bought from Kenya’s Bitpesa and Maltese-registered Quidax.

Between August and September 2020, the Nigerians purchased bitcoins on the crypto exchange platforms BitPesa, Binance, Nigeria’s Busha and several others. [Photo/Blockchain Africa Conference]
Read: Jay-Z, Twitter founder dump 500 bitcoins in Africa
The money they used to fund their cryptocurrencies buying spree was wired from their RemX Limited bank accounts in Kenya, RemX Inc, and RemX Nigeria (The RemX Inc is registered in the United States).

To manoeuvre around the strict money laundering rules in the United States, the culprits wired money into an account in their companies’ names to create an impression that they were conducting “same company fund transfers”.

Once the money got to the United States, the companies used Fedwire to send the loot to individual binance accounts. Investigations further revealed that the three Nigerians redistributed the cryptocurrencies to individual wallets to make them untraceable.

European investigators believe big names in both countries, a top Kenyan politician and a Nigerian investor with high interests in the energy sector, were the beneficiaries of the suspected money-laundering scheme.

The three Nigerian nationals worked with the help of Kenyans in the laundering, which has now drawn the attention of Kenyan investigative agencies, who have been receiving a lot of backlash for their reluctance in bringing corruption cases to justice. The European and Kenyan agencies monitor hundreds of transactions moving around at least three continents.

European investigators further believe that the Nigerians may have transacted in Kenya long before setting off alarm bells in Europe. The cryptocurrency purchase appears to have happened a month before the three wired Sh25.6 billion (US$220 million) from Lagos to a network comprising more than ten companies in Nairobi.

Read: The crypto uncertainty: Ethereum to surpass bitcoin in market capitalization
Detectives believe Mr Akinyemiju, Mr Demuren and Mr Nehikhare enjoy the political patronage of a powerful Kenyan politician who was the brains behind eliminating legal encumbrances that restrict the transfer of vast amounts of money into and out of Kenya.

ARA court order to freeze bank accounts

Recently, the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) received court orders to freeze six bank accounts operated by six companies linked to the three Nigerians, which had a Ksh5.6 billion (US$65 million) balance.

Kenya has now established that Ksh15 billion (US$173.8 million) might still be stuck in a Kenyan local bank account intended to finance a mysterious transaction with Pumicells Limited. This Kenyan company owns a crypto mining service Rempesa and offers money transfer services.

European detectives investigating a Kenya- Nigeria 25.6 million money-laundering scheme. [Photo/ News Central Tv]

Companies’ registry records show that Ms Pauline Wanjiru Wachira owns Pumicells Limited.
The Kenyan citizen Ms Wachira incorporated Pumicells on September 18, 2020, barely three weeks after the three Nigerians went on their bitcoin money-laundering syndicate.

The official contact listed for Pumicells Limited is registered under Evalyne Wawira Gachoki, a Director of RemX Capital Limited. Ms Gachoki’s account at UBA Bank was among those frozen by the High Court early this month following an application by the Assets Recovery Agency.

RemX Capital Limited had Sh770.4 million (US$8.93 million) at the time the account was frozen.
Other companies’ frozen accounts are OIT Africa Limited (Sh4.83 billion) and Avalon Offshore (Sh43.8 million).
The link between Ms Gachoki and Pumicells indicates that she and Ms Wachira may have been enlisted to help the Nigerian nationals move money from Nigeria and Kenya.

In February, the ARA started investigating the suspected money-laundering ring after receiving information about unexplainable transactions.

Read: Central African Republic first African country to legalize bitcoin

I am a journalist who is an enthusiastic tech, business and investment news writer from across Africa. There is always something good happening in Africa but most gets lost in the stereotypes. I tell the stories that matter to the Africans for Africa. Have a tip? You can contact me at j.kangethe@theexchange.africa

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