LAGOS, Nigeria —
A Nigerian man who fled to his homeland after being accused of defrauding dozens of lawyers and law firms of more than $31 million has been extradited to the U.S., Nigeria’s anti-graft agency said Friday.
Emmanuel Ekhator was arrested in Nigeria’s Benin City by the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in August. He was handed over to U.S. marshals in New York on Thursday, said Femi Babafemi, the anti-graft body’s spokesman.
“With the latest extradition, ... the message should be clear to anyone who travels abroad to commit crime and run back home to hide that Nigeria is no longer safe for them,” Farida Waziri, the anti-graft body’s chief, said in a statement. “We will get them and hand them over to face the law.”
Court records show Ekhator has yet to be assigned a lawyer. He remained in custody on Friday.
Charging documents from the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania show that Ekhator and others are accused of mail and wire fraud after using bank accounts in South Korea, Singapore, China and Japan to collect the stolen money.
Federal prosecutors say the complicated scam involved multiple players, with a fraudster calling a U.S. or Canadian law firm posing as someone usually in Asia who needed to collect a debt from a person or organization based in North America. Another scammer poses as the debtor and agrees to pay off the debt—using a fake check, authorities say.
The law firms or lawyers collect the fake check, which gets validated by a third scammer posing as a bank employee over the telephone. Before the victims realize the check is fake, they’ve already used their own money to pay the fake settlement amount to their supposedly Asia-based client.
Prosecutors say the scam ring extorted more than $31 million from more than 80 lawyers and law firms. The group attempted to extort another $100 million from 300 additional victims, the charging documents allege.
Ekhator is one of several people accused of belonging to the ring.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is an international pariah when it comes to Internet and banking fraud. The country has tried to police the fraud rackets, but corruption and weak law enforcement allow fraudsters to thrive.