Two Nigerians, Oluwagbewikeke Lewis and Bashiru Aderibigbe, based in Ireland have pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering of about €183 000 (86.9 million at N475.24 official rate) in false Pandemic Unemployment Payments (PUP) from the Department of Social Protection.
The 35-year-old Oluwagbewikeke and 45-year-old Bashiru pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering between April -December 2020 and to 11 counts of possession of forged passports, forged bank statements and stolen UK passports.
At the Cork Circuit Criminal Court in Ireland on Wednesday, it was revealed that due to a data breach, Oluwagbewikeke and Bashiru had used stolen PPS numbers belonging to 74 HSE and Tusla employees to scam the employees with an email.
Detective Eimear Keeshan of the National Economic Crime Bureau told the court the email included a clone link to a website of the Department of Justice, with the target requested to attend jury service by supplying their PPS numbers.
Keeshan said the PPS numbers were used to open false accounts with a number of banking institutions in the country.
121 fraudulent applications for PUP were made and a total of N84.1m paid into 57 separate bank accounts. The State has however frozen 57 accounts which contain N15.4m, while investigations revealed that about N14.2m was transferred to German banks and the whereabouts of about N 56.9m remain unknown.
The two suspects, detectives said, regularly communicated about their criminal activities on WhatsApp and “reported to persons involved in international crime only known as the “Chairman and “Ebony”,” Cork Beo reported on Monday.
Oluwagbewikeke arrest came after a detective seconded to the Department of Social Protection, Trevor Conroy spotted a number of applications for PUP under different PPS numbers with a variation of the same email address during a search in July 2020.
The court was told that the fraud unravelled when Detective Kieran Crowley of Midleton Garda Station stopped a car driven by Oluwagbewikeke in November 2020 in the Midleton area and a follow-up search at his home led to the discovery of false passports, bank statements and a mobile phone.
Meanwhile, Defence Counsel for Oluwagbewikeke, Tom Power has asked that his sentence be adjourned for a week to enable him to raise N2.3m for compensation to victims.
Power stated that he had been in Ireland for five years living with his Irish partner and two children and also an active member of his church adding that Oluwagbewileke had “become embroiled in this matter” not as a ring leader and does not have the trappings of wealth.
Counsel for the second defendant Bashiru, Sinead Behan, told the court that the outbreak of COVID-19 lured him to fraud as he was a taxi driver and needed some money for his five children and an 85-year-old mother who is dependent on him in Nigeria.
Aderibigbe, the court heard, was captured on CCTV withdrawing money from different bank accounts on €11,270 on 13 occasions. He went to court with €6000 in compensation and promised to raise more funds. Oluwagbekeke plans to hand over €5000 in compensation.
However, they have been remanded in custody by Judge Helen Boyle and are due to appear again before the Circuit Court next week Wednesday for sentencing.