A Nigerian man is facing a lengthy jail stint in Darwin after admitting to his involvement in a money scam that stretched to two Australian states and two Africa countries.
Emmanuel Eghonghon Okoh, 25, pleaded guilty to money laundering, involving an international cyber-scamming syndicate which hacked into the email of a Ballarat landscape gardening business and obtained nearly $43,000 by fraud.
It was the first time such a case had been prosecuted in the Northern Territory, partly because such cyber crimes involving overseas emails were so hard to investigate, crown prosecutor Naomi Loudon said.
In March last year, the scammers hacked into the email of the Ballarat business and sent invoices to the Gannon Group, who were building a retirement village in Lucas.
The business owner had been legitimately performing landscape gardening, which the African cyber criminals were aware of through hacking his email.
They then sent emails and invoices to the Gannon Group, purporting to be from the landscaper, for a total of $42,591.18.
The account details were Okoh's.
The actual fraudulent emails were believed to have been sent from contacts in South Africa and Nigeria.
Such cases, known as "business email compromise" or BEC, were serious and prevalent but difficult for police to obtain evidence as sometimes the account holders used for the money laundering were unaware it was being used illegally.
However, when police raided Okoh's home last year his phone was seized and numerous WhatsApp messages with contacts in Africa including screenshots of Gannon Group emails showed he was aware he was acting illegally and obtaining a benefit by deception.
He had even been dishonest with his co-offenders and resisted transferring money to them in Africa, telling them the Commonwealth Bank would not let him.
It is the old adage, there is no honour among thieves.NT Supreme Court Justice Trevor Riley
The maximum penalty for such a crime was 20 years jail, Ms Loudon said.
"The success in this matter - a matter that has not come before the Supreme Court in the Northern Territory that I am aware of - is through the police cyber crime unit proactively obtaining a search warrant, and obtaining the digital device that revealed a plethora of messages," she said.
The business owner became aware of the fraud and hacking when he realised he had not been paid two days before his wedding.
He had been counting on the payment of the invoices to cover wedding and honeymoon costs.
While Gannon Group paid him, it took several months to receive that and other $40,000 in work he performed at the site and had "serious effects on my health and mental state, leaving us in dire straits mentally and emotionally" and set back his business, he told police.
Okoh was remanded in custody ahead of sentencing.
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