The growing extent to which Ireland is now a base for international crime gangs has been confirmed in recent weeks with the arrest of Albanian gang members believed to be involved in smuggling cocaine, and the arrests here of people suspected of involvement in the Nigerian Black Axe organised crime group.
It is believed that the gang were responsible for laundering more than €60 million here, including fraudulent claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, and had somewhere in the region of 4,000 people here who were complicit in its money laundering and other criminal activities.
In addition, €225,655 was seized elsewhere having seemingly been laundered through five Irish based companies connected to Black Axe.
This was part of a larger international operation that involved the police forces of 21 countries and has led to more than 100 arrests and the seizure of more than €2 million from 208 bank accounts.
Gript has reported previously on the activities of Black Axe. A number of its members were charged in September 2020 with being part of a so-called ‘romance scam’ fraud. The three men were convicted in July 2020 of having conned a 66 year old Cork woman out of her life savings of €282,000.
They were using at least two businesses here, both of which still appear to be in operation, to launder the money and export goods to Nigeria. A Nigerian newspaper reported that the men were members of Black Axe.
Operation Skein was a joint operation by the Gardaí and Interpol which culminated in October 2021 in with report that the investigation had discovered that Black Axe had been involved in fraud and money laundering here that was believed to have led to the theft of more than €14 million, and that up to €8 million of the proceeds had then been laundered internationally.
It was also estimated in 2022 that the actual amount of money stolen by the gang here, including through fraudulent claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, was more than €60 million, and that Black Axe had somewhere in the region of 4,000 people here who were complicit in its money laundering and other criminal activities.
The fact that one third of the arrests made as part of Operation Jackel/Skein is another indication of the importance of Ireland to the activities of Black Axe.
The estimates of the numbers of people willingly or otherwise who are part of their activities here also emphasises the dangerously high level of penetration of the Nigerian community here by the gang.
It was reported this week that 34 people were arrested here as part of the international crackdown on the Black Axe gang, following search and arrest operations conducted in Dublin, Meath, Laois, Limerick, Cork, Clare, and Waterford. A total of 103 people were arrested as part of Operation Jackal, led by Interpol and involving law enforcement from 21 countries.
The hold which the gang has over people is partly explained by its origins. A BBC Africa documentary of December 2021 claimed that Black Axe, “a fantastically large criminal organisation,” has around 30,000 members and generates profits running into billions of dollars each year, on par with a major international corporation, but it began life as an ostensibly politically motivated cult known as the Neo Black Movement.
It was founded in the southern Edo regional capital of Benin City over 40 years ago. According to the United Nations around 70% of Nigerians who migrate abroad are from the Edo region, and the Black Axe is central to the organisation of illegal migration and trafficking, as well as the other criminality associated with it, including prostitution and drugs.
Interestingly, it targets members of the elite, primarily among male university graduates especially of the University of Benin, who at one stage were recruited on the basis of Edo nationalism. Initiates are apparently tortured to prove their worthiness and swear allegiance to a god known as Korofo. Former members claim that they have people placed across the entire and notoriously corrupt Nigerian elite from universities to the police and army and central and federal government.
The Neo Black Movement of Africa (NBM) still exists as a legal organisation and denies any connection with Black Axe but this is disputed by the United States Justice Department and other authorities tasked with tackling the gang. Documents secured by the BBC investigation showed evidence of significant contacts and overlap.
One of those whose names was revealed as part of that nexus was Augustus Bemigho, former President of the NBM who the emails show to have been involved in multi-million dollar fraud.
The British police attempted unsuccessfully to prosecute Bemigho, who had also advised members of the NBM around the world to establish NGOs as a means to “rake in millions.” Not slow is this chap clearly.
The strong presence of Black Axe in Ireland and the existence of groups such as those known as ‘Eircode gangs’ highlight the utter naivety of those who believed that Ireland would somehow be immune to a bloody culture that has spread its tentacles around the world. It is also perhaps disappointing that none of the Nigerians who are prominent in Irish public life and who are not averse to lecturing the native population on its flaws should have little to say about any of this.
The violence associated with the so-called Eircode gangs replicates similar gang violence in London and other English cities where quite a number of Nigerians now living in Ireland have come from. In London the gang feuds have led to dozens of murders, many of them carried out by gang members armed with knifes and other stabbing weapons.
A common excuse for all of this is the old trope that “sure, we have our own criminals and they are just as bad.” Which is a strange rationale when you think of it.