Three Nigerians linked to Sh25.6 billion that was moved into Kenya between October and November 2020 bought Bitcoins worth Sh5 billion in multiple countries, including at Kenya’s crypto exchange BitPesa.
A statement filed in a European investigation reveals that between August and September 2020, Mr Olubunmi Akinyemiju, Mr Olufemi Olukunmi Demuren and Mr Eghosasere Nehikhare went on a shopping spree, purchasing Bitcoins at BitPesa and other exchanges, including Binance in the US and Busha in Nigeria.
The three bought cryptocurrencies worth $36,353,728 (Sh4.2 billion) from US-registered firm Binance.
They also bought Bitcoins worth $7,246,582 (Sh839.5 million) from Busha over the same period.
The money they used to purchase the cryptocurrencies was wired from their RemX Limited bank accounts in Kenya, RemX Inc, which is registered in the US and RemX Nigeria.
Investigators believe the trio then redistributed the crypto to individual wallets to make them untraceable.
European investigators believe a top Kenyan politician and a Nigerian investor with interests in the energy sector were the beneficiaries of the suspected money-laundering scheme.
The Nation is yet to establish the exact quantity of Bitcoins that the Nigerians bought from Kenya’s Bitpesa and Maltese-registered Quidax.
At the current market rates, the Sh5 billion translates to 1,116 Bitcoins.
The three enlisted the help of Kenyans in their shopping spree, which has now drawn the attention of Kenyan and European investigative agencies, which are monitoring hundreds of transactions spanning at least three continents.
The cryptocurrency purchase is believed to have happened a month before the three wired Sh25.6 billion from Lagos to a network comprising more than 10 companies in Nairobi, an indication that the Nigerians may have transacted in Kenya long before setting off alarm bells in Europe.
To skirt around the strict money laundering rules in the US, the Nigerians and their Kenyan associates wired money into an account held in their companies’ names to create the impression that they were conducting “same company fund transfers”.
Once the money got to the US, the companies used Fedwire to send the money to Binance accounts to avoid detection.
Detectives in Europe and Kenya believe Mr Akinyemiju, Mr Demuren and Mr Nehikhare enjoy the patronage of a powerful Kenyan politician who may have been recruited to eliminate legal encumbrances that hamper transfer of huge sums of money into and out of Kenya.
Nearly a month ago, the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) obtained court orders freezing six bank accounts operated by six companies linked to the Nigerians, and which had a Sh5.6 billion balance.
Court papers do not indicate whether there were more transactions with regard to the accounts before the ARA obtained freeze orders pending conclusion of money-laundering investigations.
The Nation has now established that Sh15 billion might still be stuck in a local bank account, and was intended to finance a mysterious transaction with a Kenyan company, Pumicells Limited.
Pumicells Limited owns a cryptocurrency mining service, Rempesa, but also offers money transfer services.
Records at the companies’ registry show that Pumicells is wholly owned by a Kenyan citizen, Ms Pauline Wanjiru Wachira.
Ms Wachira incorporated Pumicells on September 18, 2020, barely three weeks after the three Nigerians went on their Bitcoin shopping spree.
The official contact listed for Pumicells is registered under the name Evalyne Wawira Gachoki.
Ms Gachoki is a Director of RemX Capital Limited, whose account at UBA Bank was among those frozen by the High Court early this month following an application by ARA. RemX Capital Limited had Sh770.4 million at the time account was frozen. The company is wholly owned by Dubai-registered RemX Holding Kenya Limited.
Other companies whose accounts were frozen are OIT Africa Limited (Sh4.83 billion) and Avalon Offshore (Sh43.8 million).
The link between Ms Gachoki and Pumicells indicates that she and Ms Wachira may have been enlisted to help the Nigerian nationals move money from Nigeria and Kenya.
The ARA started investigating the suspected money-laundering ring in February after receiving information about unexplainable transactions.