Black Axe cyber-gang affiliate charged with money laundering in US

A New Jersey man has been indicted on charges of laundering money for a cybercriminal enterprise linked to multiple internet-based scams, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) reports.

Andrew Suarez, 29, of Middletown, has also been charged with identity theft by a federal court, where he stands accused of helping Black Axe-affiliated cybercriminals based in Cape Town, South Africa, to clean money obtained through cyber-fraud.

“Suarez opened up bank accounts in the United States, which were then used to conceal money obtained through business email compromises and other fraud schemes,” alleged the DoJ, which believes he then transferred criminal proceeds to bank accounts in the US and South Africa in a series of illicit operations between August and December 2017.

“To avoid detection, Suarez changed the information on some of his bank accounts, so the accounts listed the name and address of a victim,” the DoJ added.

If convicted, Suarez faces up to 20 years in prison for each of the two counts of money laundering, and an additional two years on top for identity theft. He could also face fines in excess of $1 million if found guilty.

Suarez was apprehended by the FBI, who acted in concert with the Newark division of the US Secret Service and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.

Thought to have originated in Nigeria in the 1970s, Black Axe has long been linked to organized crime. This year it has come under sharper US scrutiny after a recent spate of internet-based romance and 419 scams.

US authorities are seeking the extradition for half a dozen suspected Black Axe members arrested last year in Cape Town, believed to be the base of operations for one chapter of the criminal enterprise, regarded by some as a cult.