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September 7, 2012

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Four Nigerians in court over bank-account con

FOUR Nigerian men who were charged with gaining criminal income totaling nearly US$310,000 went on trial at the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court yesterday.

The suspects were brought into the courtroom handcuffed.

Prosecutors said they opened four accounts at a local branch of Bank of China with fake passports and withdrew US$309,986.24 from the accounts between August and November 2011.

The money was defrauded from eight overseas companies, including those in the United States, Egypt and Panama, which had been deceived into transferring their international trade payments into the suspects' Chinese accounts, the court heard.

They were caught in Shanghai last December and this January after a Hong Kong-based trading firm filed a complaint with Shanghai police, alleging that its company e-mail box had been hacked and one of its clients in Ghana had transferred nearly US$50,000 into a fraudulent account in Shanghai.

At yesterday's hearing, the suspects said they could get a 10 percent commission every time they withdrew a sum of money from the bank and transferred the rest to Nigeria.

One of the suspects, Osofowowe Omotoso Augustine, 33, said he didn't know the money was illegal and he was told by a friend named Patrick to withdraw the money. Patrick is at large.

An official of the Hong Kong company, surnamed Chen, also attended yesterday's hearing.

Chen told Shanghai Daily that the gang began hacking into his company's e-mail box at the time when business negotiations with a client in Ghana started. The hackers registered an e-mail address that was similar to the client's and replied to his company.

The company clerk didn't think there was anything amiss with the address and sent e-mails back. The hackers thus began to receive e-mails from the Hong Kong company.

"The hackers read every e-mail and kept silent until we sent an e-mail containing the bank account to demand payment from the client.

"We didn't discover anything wrong until September 18 last year, four days after our client paid the money into a wrong account," Chen said.


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