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First use of Interpol's AML Rapid Response Protocol against massive "Black Axe" cyber crime cell

Interpol's new AML Rapid Response Protocol is being used for the first time against the massive 'Black Axe' cybercrime group; arrests, cash, and luxury goods have been confiscated in 14 countries.

This month, major operations in Ireland and South Africa focused on combating the huge West African 'Black Axe' cyber-crime and money laundering organisation.


According to Interpol, which coordinated searches under the pseudonym 'Jackal,' Black Axe and similar gangs are responsible for the majority of the world's cyber-enabled financial fraud as well as other significant crimes.

“The lavish lifestyles and greed of many suspects – allegedly paid for by defrauding members of the public of their savings and other criminal activities – was on clear display at the scenes of their arrest,” said an Interpol spokesperson. “Various luxury assets were seized, including a residential property, three cars and tens of thousands in cash.”


The criminal organisation is heavily involved in online fraud, people trafficking, drug and gun crime, and murder.


AML Intelligence can reveal that during the operation, Interpol used its new worldwide stop-payment mechanism known as the Anti-Money Laundering Rapid Response Protocol for the first time (ARRP).


The ARRP, which is currently in pilot mode, allows police agencies to submit and handle requests to track, intercept, or temporarily freeze unlawful proceeds of crime.


Game-changer

The method, which was first created in collaboration with South Korean authorities combatting cyber fraud, was vital to successfully intercepting large quantities of illicit funds in multiple cases throughout 'Jackal.'


The ARRP, when used in conjunction with the agency's Global Financial Crime Task Force, allows member countries to promptly intercept illegal proceeds of crime.


“The ARRP is a game-changer in the fight against global financial crime, where speed and international cooperation are crucial to intercepting illicit funds before they disappear into the pockets of money mules abroad,” said Rory Corcoran, Director of IFCACC.


“Interpol’s Global Financial Crime Task Force has shown remarkable effectiveness in disrupting illicit financial flows, bringing together cyber and finance experts across sectors to track and cut off criminal money trails,” he added.


In summary, Operation Jackal yielded the following results:


  • €1.2 million stolen from bank accounts

  • There have been 75 arrests and 49 property searches.

  • 7 Interpol Purple Notices describing illegal tactics

  • Interpol issued six Red Notices for internationally wanted fugitives.


Dublin, Ireland's capital, was one of the two main targets of the Black Axe cybercrime and money laundering organisation. IMAGE: Interpol

According to the national police, An Garda Siochana (AGS) or garda, it is estimated that more than €64 million has been laundered via Ireland by international crime organisations such as the 'Black Axe' organisation.


The Black Axe cartel is being held responsible for an increase in transnational crimes such as commercial invoice and romantic fraud.


Operation Jackal follows the FATF/Interpol (FIRE) conference in Singapore last month, where the organisations announced a new cooperative initiative to combat illegal financial flows.


Disrupted

According to the UN, up to $2 trillion in illicit cash being laundered through the global banking system each year. Surprisingly, it is expected that only about 1% of these monies are caught and recovered.


"Fraud is transnational, there are no borders," said Det Supt Michael Cryan of the AGS National Economic Crime Bureau in Dublin, who attended the Singapore event.


"This is a remarkable illustration of what can be achieved when multinational police forces cooperate by sharing intelligence, information, and evidence," he added of Operation Jackal. Working closely with Interpol, we can considerably impede the activities of these criminal organisations, making it safer online for everyone."


South African police seized this handgun as part of Operation Jackal. 'Jackal' was carried out under the auspices of Project CEFIN, which is funded by South Korea and targets cyber-enabled financial crimes.


Argentina, Australia, Côte d'Ivoire, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, UAE, UK, and the United States are all participating.


This was the first time Interpol coordinated a global operation against the Black Axe cartel, which is quickly becoming a serious security danger around the world.


The operation was coordinated by the International Police Organization's Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC).


Luxury items, cash, and a new BMW five-series sedan were among the items taken.

The two individuals seized in South Africa alone were wanted for online scams that netted victims USD 1.8 million.


The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau in Ireland has identified more than 800 so-called money mules, but thinks that there are over 4,000 in the country.


Many of them were recruited abroad and flown to Ireland to open accounts in order to launder millions of dollars.


Between September 26 and 30, officers around the world started enforcement operations against individuals associated with the Black Axe gang, detaining suspected criminal operators or money mules, raiding and closing down locations, and seizing assets relating to ongoing cases. Details were just made public this weekend (Saturday, October 15).


Two Interpol operational support teams were also sent to South Africa and Ireland to assist in the coordination of international law enforcement teams on the ground. Within the scope of the operation, the Carabinieri arrested three people in Campobasso, Italy.


"We have seen how groups like Black Axe will channel money earned from internet financial crimes into other crime areas, such as drugs and human trafficking." "These groups deserve a worldwide reaction," stated Interpol's Executive Director of Police Services, Stephen Kavanagh.


Rory Corcoran, Director of Interpol's Financial and Organized Crime Unit, was in Dublin to assess the operation's progress. He described Black Axe as a sophisticated organisation with a business model based on division of labour.


Members and associates open bank accounts in one nation using fraudulent documents, the crime is performed, money is stolen, and victims are abandoned in another while the money is laundered in other countries.


Det Supt Cryan described how the gang's tactics are always evolving. Prior to Covid-19, he claimed, many criminals flew into Ireland to open bank accounts. During the pandemic, though, they went online and hired money mules to open bank accounts in their bedrooms.


He also stated that Irish residents are increasingly travelling to other countries.


Black Axe also sent people to Ireland, where some were convicted and imprisoned. They have laundered money, set up front firms, employed phoney documents, and worked directly with the West African government.


Meanwhile, Irish police have cautioned citizens not to agree to become money mules. "If you're a money mule, when you pass over your bank account, it will be utilised for organised crime," Det Supt Cryan told RTE News.


“You’re the one that will be arrested, it’s your phone number, account, face on CCTV at the ATM.”


He went on to say that the only method to combat the fraud is to stop the money mules and cut off the gang's financial "blood supply."


IRELAND AND THE "BLACK AXE"


DETECTIVES IN DUBLIN STARTED ATTACKING 'Black Axe,' a West African gang, two years ago.


Their inquiry began when they received a request for assistance from another EU member following the theft of €1.1 million in a BEC fraud and its laundering through Asia.


The bogus emails originated in Ireland and showed that the Black Axe criminal organisation was functioning in Ireland for the first time. Because of the transnational character of the crimes, Europol in the Hague, Netherlands, and Interpol in Lyons, France, were called in.


So far, the garda (police) investigation has shown that about €40 million has been stolen, with over €64 million laundered via Ireland via money mules.


Separately, 'Operation Skein' was launched in Ireland to target romance, business invoice, and other fraudulent operations, and has led in 69 arrests under organised crime legislation and 195 detentions for money laundering offences. One hundred and thirty of them have been charged.


Det Chief Supt Pat Lordan, the commander of the Economic Crime Bureau, spearheaded the operation.

By fLEXI tEAM

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