Behind the headlines that emerged earlier this month on the arrest of two suspected online scammers in South Africa lies a global police operation coordinated by INTERPOL.
Codenamed Operation Jackal, the joint law enforcement effort mobilized 14 countries across four continents in a targeted strike against Black Axe and related West-African organized crime groups.
Operation Jackal marks the first time INTERPOL has coordinated a global operation specifically against Black Axe, which is rapidly becoming a major security threat worldwide.
Black Axe and similar groups are responsible for the majority of the world’s cyber-enabled financial fraud as well as many other serious crimes, according to evidence analyzed by INTERPOL’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC) and national law enforcement.
In South Africa alone, the two suspects arrested were wanted for online scams that extracted USD 1.8 million from victims.
Lifeblood of organized crime
Over one coordinated ‘action week’ (26-30 September), police worldwide launched enforcement operations against individuals linked to the Black Axe group, arresting suspected criminal operators or money mules, raiding and shutting down premises and seizing assets related to ongoing cases.
Two INTERPOL operational support teams were also deployed to South Africa and Ireland respectively to help coordinate international law enforcement teams on the ground. In Italy, the Carabinieri made three arrests in Campobasso within the framework of the operation.
In total, the operation resulted in:
- EUR 1.2 million intercepted in bank accounts
- 75 arrests
- 49 property searches
- 7 INTERPOL Purple Notices, detailing criminal modus operandi
- 6 INTERPOL Red Notices, issued for internationally-wanted fugitives
“Illicit financial funds are the lifeblood of transnational organized crime, and we have witnessed how groups like Black Axe will channel money gained from online financial scams into other crime areas, such as drugs and human trafficking. These groups demand a global response,” said Stephen Kavanagh, Executive Director of Police Services, INTERPOL.
The immense quantity of assets seized, including 12,000 SIM cards, have provided new investigative leads for law enforcement, generating 13 analytical reports and allowing police to identify more than 70 additional suspects.
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. Various luxury assets were seized, including a residential property, three cars and tens of thousands in cash.
The operation also saw INTERPOL successfully deploy its new global stop-payment mechanism known as the Anti-Money Laundering Rapid Response Protocol (ARRP), currently in its pilot stage. Used within the framework of INTERPOL’s Global Financial Crime Task Force, the ARRP enables member countries to quickly 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.”
Operation Jackal comes on the heels of INTERPOL’s first-ever roundtable engagement event with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Singapore last month, where a new joint initiative to take action against illicit financial flows was launched between the organizations.
Up to USD 2 trillion in illicit funds are laundered through the global financial system every year, according to the United Nations, and is estimated that less than 1% of these funds are intercepted and recovered.
“Fraud is transnational, there are no borders,” said Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan of Ireland’s Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, which participated in Operation Jackal. “This is a great example of what can be achieved when international police forces cooperate by sharing intelligence, information and evidence. By working together with support from INTERPOL, the activities of these criminal gangs can be greatly disrupted, making it safer online for everyone.”
Operation Jackal was conducted under the aegis of Project CEFIN, which targets cyber-enabled financial crimes and is funded by the Republic of Korea.
The full list of participating countries in Operation Jackal are: Argentina, Australia, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.