A Nigerian man managed to scam more than €1.7million from unsuspecting members of the public in an email fraud – while claiming almost €50k a year in dole payments in Ireland.
He convinced three identified victims and others to part with hundreds of thousands of euro, claiming he was the beneficiary of a huge inheritance but needed help to pay taxes before it could be released to him.
Charity boss Noel Patrick Ikponmwonba fled Dublin and his family when the fraud was discovered and is now on the run in Nigeria, where he has a second wife in Benin City.
A court heard this week that in a single year in Ireland while he was engaged in the fraud, he and his wife claimed an enormous €49,750 from the Department of Social Protection.
The couple were linked to seven bank accounts and despite having no legitimate source of income, funds to the tune of €1,737,000 went through them.
While his wife initially told gardai she did whatever her husband did, she was never charged in relation to any criminal offence.
Ikponmwonba was born in 1983 in Benin, Nigeria and moved to Ireland before 2001, when he met his wife Efe. The pair lived for a time in Ryevale Lawns in Leixlip.
Over the course of his time in Ireland, Ikponmwonba regularly lost his passport, social security cards and other items. He claimed social welfare for more than 10 years. In 2007, he was convicted of opening a fake bank account in AIB in Crumlin.
However, it was the extraordinary particulars of a notorious email scam, detailed during CAB proceedings at the High Court last week, that showed how easy it can be for fraudsters to trick people into parting with their life savings.
“While most people ignore and delete such emails, some will send funds,” the courts were told.
In one fraud, Ikponmwonba (below) posed as ‘Lucy Morgan’, a fictitious Irish woman who claimed to have been left millions by a relative. In unsolicited email exchanges ‘she’ convinced a Californian man, named in court as Eric Johnson, to part with €463,000 for tax clearance certificates.
The High Court heard that Mr Johnson believed that Ms Morgan was going to move to the United States to live with him once she had freed up her legacy with the help of his funds.
He had the money as the result of a large inheritance he himself had received but when he realised he had been swindled he made a complaint to Stockton Police.
A Dutch citizen, Johannes Klaas, fell for a similar tale when he transferred £418,000 to accounts in Ireland. He even flew to Dublin and was shown boxes of cash in a vault, the High Court was told. Klaas communicated with a ‘Paul John Boylan’ who had claimed he was due an €8.3million windfall after a close relative had died. The money was transferred through a series of accounts in Ireland and as far afield as China.
UK national Susan Locke was the third victim named. She also transferred over £400,000 to Ikponmwonba after falling for the email tale.
The Criminal Assets Bureau told the High Court that after complaints were received in the US, the Netherlands and the UK, gardai were contacted and began their own inquiries in this jurisdiction.
In 2011 Ikponmwonba, who also goes by the name Noel Osareniye Patrick, was charged before the courts on 12 counts of theft. When he failed to appear a bench warrant was issued for his arrest a year later.
Gardai believe the charity boss and former businessman, who lived in Leixlip with his wife and children, has been on the run ever since and has now settled down to a life in Benin City – the notorious Nigerian trafficking hotspot where he is campaigning to be elected (below).
In the last few months CAB officers asked the High Court for permission to serve papers on Ikonmwonba and his wife Efe Patrick, who remains in Ireland.
In affidavits to the court a bureau officer said he had contacted ‘Mrs Patrick’ at her home in Leixlip but that she insisted she was not in contact with her husband and had no email address for him.
However, he said that ‘Mr Patrick’ had been logged on to social media from Benin City in Nigeria, where officers now believe he is based. He had recently posted a story relating to US President Donald Trump’s election.
Lawyers for the Bureau told the court that the ‘Laveri Charity’ had been directly linked to the Nigerian, which claims to donate funds to orphanages in Africa.
Company documents here show that Efe and Noel Patrick registered the business name ‘Laveri Enterprises’ with the companies office in 2008 and listed it as a hair-and-beauty salon operating from Leixlip in Kildare.
The couple registered the cessation of the business in 2010 – a year before he was charged with 12 counts of theft before the Irish courts.
The High Court also heard that an article about Mr Patrick and his charity work appeared in a Nigerian newspaper further linking him to the charity.
Last week the Bureau returned to the courts, where they said they had not succeeded in contacting Ikponmwonba but believed he had another wife in Nigeria.
Efe Patrick, they said, had agreed not to challenge the order to seize €40,000, including an insurance policy in Ireland, on the basis that she wasn’t asked to pay costs.
The Bureau’s 2015 annual report issued recently detailed how one of its cases was against Mohammed Abacha – the son of General Sani Abacha, the late dictator of Nigeria who came to power in a coup in 1993.
The CAB report said it had progressed the Irish element of an international operation to retrieve money ‘looted’ from Nigeria during his period in power.
CAB targeted 30 life assurance policies in HSBC Life Europe, which by the end of last year had been frozen and remain so as the case progresses.
Abacha did not attend court hearings in Ireland but CAB said it had tried to ensure all of the paperwork was served on him in Nigeria.
“This service was greatly hampered by the outbreak of both the Ebola virus and the violence of the Boko Haram in Kano Province,” it said. It is understood the case is due to conclude in the coming months.