The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency on Thursday arrested six members of a suspected money laundering syndicate that specializes in swallowing dollars.
In a statement, the agency said that the group, which includes a bureau de change operator, were caught in connection with swallowing US$156,000 (about N32 million) meant for export to Brazil.
Those arrested are Kingsley Nwokenta, a bureau de change operator also known as Buchito; Augustine Onwuasoanya, 54, and Christian Okoli, 35, both based in Brazil; Uzoma Ezenwa, 33, a hotel manager; Ikenna Ezenwa; and Emmanuel Nwokenta.
The suspects were caught at Excel Oriental Hotel, along Airport Road, Lagos, where the dollars were being swallowed, the NDLEA said.
It was the second arrest in two months of suspected money launderers involving a bureau de change.
”The agency will continue to rely on manpower training and intelligence-led drug control strategies to outwit criminal syndicates,” said Ahmadu Giade, NDLEA’s Chairman.
“We shall take reasonable measures to dislodge drug cartels and eradicate narcotics from our society. Any bureau de change operator that violates the law shall be punished accordingly.”
The anti-narcotics agency stated that its interim investigation showed that Kingsley Nwokenta, 37, who operates Amazon Bureau de Change, is the brain behind the alleged criminal act.
“He allegedly supplied US$120,000 to be swallowed and illicitly exported to Brazil,” said Muyiwa Adeniyi, NDLEA Commander, Joint Task Force.
“Onwuasoanya Augustine swallowed 74 wraps of dollars amounting to US$111,000. Christian Okoli who resides in Brazil had US$45,000 which he wanted to swallow.”
The NDLEA said that Emmanuel Nwokenta, 31, the manager of the bureau de change, played a “supportive role” in the alleged act while Ikenna Ezenwa, 28, was hired to wrap the money.
“He is believed to have acquired his skill from illicit drug wrapping,” Mr. Adeniyi said.
“Ezenwa Uzoma, the hotel manager who has a strong link with members of the syndicate, wilfully obstructed the officers from discharging their duty.”
Illicit exportat of currency by ingestion is a new trend in by-passing anti-money laundering operatives, and the NDLEA said that the discovery that wrapped US dollars, before it is swallowed, is similar to narcotics packaging is “most revealing.”
Mr. Giade directed that the suspects be transferred to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for further investigation.”