He is a Lebanese, resident in Lagos and steeped in money. From his $1.3million residence in Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower to his high-end automobiles, Hamza Koudeih oozes money-all of which he made doing nothing in the country but money laundering- which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says he has done to the tune of $19million.
By Tony Egbulefu
Those who have followed the unraveling of a Lebanese man, Hamza Koudeih by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), would readily agree that it is misleading to judge a book by its cover. He is unassuming, comes off innocuous, and given to sedentary lifestyle.
In the swank 33-flight Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower, where he nestles with his young wife, he chose the fourth floor. This is to earn him some distance, even from his equally upscale neighbours.
Within the vicinity of this Victoria Island, Lagos high-end real estate, Koudeih ensures that no more than a moderate whiff of wealth and affluence trail his path. This is to belie his ill-gotten wealth and the fact that he dwells in $1.3million worth of residence.
To a few who know him, he is no more than a boardroom technocrat, who pulls the stops in THK Services Limited and CHK properties Limited. But the Koudeih whom many more do not know is a façade, an edifice of fraud; evil genius, a wise guy-a man much more than whom and what people think he is.
He amassed obscene wealth, doing nothing over the years in Nigeria barring crimes and criminalities, having fashioned a trans-Atlantic money laundering network.
Within the local scene, he has high net worth allies that includes social media celebrity, Ismaila Mustapha popularly known as (Mompha), whom the Commission picked up on Friday, 18 October, 2019 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, while he was on his way to Dubai, United Arab Emirate. Mompha’s arrest laid the path to that of Koudeih.
Investigations by the EFCC established that while Mompha, who camouflages as a bureau de change operator has used his firm-Ismalob Global Investments Limited-to launder about N14 billion, Koudeih through his THK Services Limited and CHK properties Limited has laundered about N19 billion. Evidently, the two are kingpins in a criminal web of cyber criminals who through the three firms, laundered a jaw-dropping N33 billion.
Before the ring was busted, both men had featured on EFCC and United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) radar as a high valued targets in Organised Cyber Syndicate Network (OCSN) and particularly as honchos in a trans-national network of cyber criminals. These according to head, EFCC Cyber crime Unit (name withheld) were established by Intel, gathered by the EFCC and the FBI in their recent joint operation, tagged, “Operation Rewired.”
Worrisome is that Mompha was able to successfully operate 51 fraudulent bank accounts, through which the monies were laundered even with the enhanced account tracking and surveillance which the Bank Verification Number (BVN), introduced by the Central Bank of Nigerian in February, 2014 provides.
Koudeih was not an easy picking for the EFCC. Armed with precision Intel, additionally gathered by the EFCC, its operatives tracked him to his lair in Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower and placed the piece of the real estate, where he has his apartment on a lockdown.
Koudeih’s world of crime is heavily reinforced with a string of top-notch security architecture that inures and shields him.
Aside surveillance cameras and closed-circuit television (CCTV), that capture anyone that comes within range, his apartment is secured three times over with a triple reinforced fire-proof door, designed to withstand violent breaches, including bullet shots.
Apparently convinced that the EFCC was on wild goose chase for him, Koudeih and his wife refused to yield to all appeals by the operatives to open their maximum security door and let them in, so also the additional entreaties that later came from the tower’s chief security officer.
The pin drop silence that greeted the appeals of EFCC operatives was a dummy to mask their presence inside the apartment, but way down to the ground, Koudeih’s high-end cars, parked in his garage were enough to tell the operatives that he was in.
The lack of cooperation from the Lebanese as well as that from the owners and administrators of Eko Atlantic Pearl Tower left the EFCC with two options-beat a retreat or muscle through. It settled for the latter, reinforcing with men and breaching tools against the armoured door.
The operatives relentlessly deployed the tools against the door, expending more than three gruelling hours before they overcame.
“It was very difficult to gain entry. It was almost like a standoff. We had to send for reinforcement of officers and breaching tools from the office. We had to breach the triple reinforced fire-proof door before we could get in,” head Cyber crime, EFCC, said.
Inside the apartment, the décor, furniture and fittings speak of Koudeih’s high taste that would leave any Arabian prince green with envy. But puzzling is the hideaway between the ceiling and the deck in his bedroom. It provides no comfy, just enough to host and shield anyone while a search lasts.
The wife who was persuaded that her husband was safe and without traces above the ceiling told the prying EFCC operatives that the man they seek has escaped through the window. It was a tale that didn’t stick-escaping through the window from that height with bare hands is stuff only for the fairytale Spiderman. The EFCC operatives were, therefore certain that Koudeih was available and within reach, but puzzled by the fact that he was nowhere to be found, even with the entire apartment having been turned inside-out, exposing a cache of voodoo objects, that was carefully tucked away.
A slight misalignment in the well manicured ceiling in the bedroom was the lead that unraveled the Lebanese. “We saw from the ceiling, how he climbed and followed it and helped him down. He had time to breach the ceiling and climbed because of the some much time we spent trying to get into his apartment. His apartment has cameras and CCT, so he saw us and knew we were from the EFCC,” head Cyber crime, EFCC, said.
Taken away were his laptop computer and telephone handset, which is currently undergoing forensic check up in the anti-corruption agency. More good news is that his ring of trans-national cyber crime network had been busted and he will have his day in court.
Reacting to arrest, the Acting Chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Magu, said Koudeih and Mompha’s arrests are landmark achievements for the EFCC in its fight against cyber crimes and a “red alert to potential fraudsters.
Speaking in an interactive session with anti-corruption stakeholders at the Lagos Zonal Office of the Commission on Thursday, October 31, 2019, he said,“The recent arrests of a social media celebrity, Ismaila Mustapha, popularly known as Mompha, and his Lebanese collaborator, Hamza Koudeih, for their alleged involvement in internet-related fraud and money laundering remain a landmark achievement of the EFCC.
“I make bold to tell you that these arrests have further confirmed our commitment to the anti-graft war, while also sending a red alert to potential internet fraudsters.
“I am sure you will be greatly shocked to know that five wristwatches valued at over N60million were recovered from the suspected internet fraudster, Mompha, at the point of arrest.
“Investigation has also revealed that he operates 51 bank accounts in Nigeria with which he acquired properties in Dubai and had laundered about N14billion through a firm known as Ismalob Global Investments Limited. His accomplice, Koudeih, also has two firms namely: THK Services Limited and CHK properties Limited with which he has allegedly laundered about N19billion.
Magu emphasized the fact that the Commission, prior to the arrests of both Mompha and Koudeih, had independently launched intensive investigative actions against the Internet fraudsters, popularly known as Yahoo Yahoo Boys, culminating in various strategic raids on their hideouts.
He further stated that the Commission had embarked on the raids even before the recently concluded collaborative operation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, tagged Operation Rewired- an international operation targeted at the Business Email Compromise, BEC, suspects across the world.