Justice Mojisola Dada of the Special Offences Court sitting in Ikeja, Lagos, on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, convicted and sentenced one Ume Ifechukwu Clinton, who defrauded a Belgian educator and caregiver, Axelle Mahieu, of the sum of €45,000 (Forty-five Thousand Euros) in a well-orchestrated Internet fraud, to one year imprisonment.
Clinton, 30, was arraigned on February 22, 2023 on an amended three-count charge bordering on possession of fraudulent documents and impersonation.
However, overwhelmed by the weight of the evidence gathered against him, Clinton had approached the prosecution for a plea bargain, thereby necessitating the need for the amended charge.
One of the amended counts reads: "That you, Ifechukwu Clinton Ume, on the 18th of October 2022, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, had in your possession a document containing false pretence: "Economic Financial and Crimes Commission (EFCC) Identification Card with EFCC logo, your picture, your name and with a staff number 1069″, used to defraud Mahieu Axelle of cryptocurrency worth 45,000 Euros, which document you knew to be false."
Another count reads: "That you, Ifechukwu Clinton Ume, on the 19th of October 2022, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, had in your possession a document containing false pretence: "WhatsApp correspondences, wherein you held yourself with a fictitious identity, Petrous, a crypto investment expert", used to defraud Mahieu Axelle of cryptocurrency worth 45,000 euros, which document you knew to be false."
He pleaded "guilty" to all the counts.
Following his guilty plea, counsel for the EFCC, Bilikisu Buhari, called a witness, Damilare Adeosun, an investigative officer with the EFCC, who testified against the defendant, and through whom several documents were tendered in evidence against him.
Led in evidence by Buhari, Adeosun, who took part in the investigation, narrated how the EFCC had acted on an intelligence report from the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, FIJ, indicating that Clinton disguised as an EFCC officer to defraud the Belgian.
According to him, Mahieu was deceived into believing that Clinton was an operative of the EFCC, after he deceived her with a purported EFCC ID card that she never knew was fake.
"The defendant presented himself to be a staff of EFCC and introduced her to non-existing cryptocurrency investment, while assuring her that she is in safe hands," Adeosun said.
Clinton, he said, had gone into hiding and investigators had to deploy the use of technology to smoke him out on October 18, 2022 at No 46 Atoke Gbadebo Street, Isheri, Lagos.
"During the course of his arrest, the fake ID card was recovered from him along with several expensive wrist watches and a bundle of cash totaling about N150,000," he said.
He testified further that the defendant volunteered his statement under interrogation by operatives, and also confessed to the alleged crime.
"He admitted that he made the forged ID card in Owerri, with N3, 000, in order to gain the trust of the victim," Adeosun further told the court.
The witness added that investigation confirmed that Clinton transferred money received from his victim through cryptocurrency to his own Binance account and exchanged same through p2p, crediting same in Naira to his bank accounts in Nigeria.
"He depleted all the money using the same to buy expensive wrist watches, a piece of land for clubbing, and also sharing with random friends. But he never used any for cryptocurrency investment, as he promised his victim," he said.
The prosecution then tendered in evidence the intelligence report; correspondences between the EFCC and the various banks, where he transferred the money to; fraudulent documents from his email; fraudulent documents from his WhatsApp conversations with his victim; correspondence with the EFCC's Human Resources Department at the EFCC Headquarters Abuja, confirming that the said ID card was fake; the search warrant, and the statements made by the defendant under interrogation.
They were all admitted as exhibits against the defendant.
Consequently, Justice Dada declared him guilty as charged.
His counsel, Adenike Goncalves, however, pleaded passionately with the court to temper justice with mercy and to give the convict a second chance.
Justice Dada, thereafter, sentenced him to one year in prison.
Items recovered from him were also ordered forfeited and to be sold as part of restitution to the victim.
The convict was also ordered to restitute the €45,000 to the victim within three months.
He was also ordered to enter into a bond with the EFCC, upon his release, that he will never again engage in criminal activity within or outside the shores of the country.
The court gave him an option of fine of N500, 000, in lieu of his prison term, "in view of his obvious remorse, timeous plea and the passionate plea of his counsel."