TWO brothers accused of carrying out the biggest Bitcoin heist in history bought citizenship to a remote Pacific island months before disappearing.
Traders Raees Cajee, 21 and Ameer, 18, fled South Africa in April after telling investors their company, Africrypt, had been hacked and all its funds stolen.
Documents seen by the Guardian show that Raees bought his Vanuatu citizenship for £95,000 in October, with Ameer following suit in January 2021.
The alleged conmen are now claiming they’re victims of organised crime.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal from an secret location, Raees categorically denied any wrongdoing and said they were forced to flea due to “death threats” from “organised crime syndicates”.
The brothers also claim their company never had £2.5billion in Bitcoin and that no more £3.6million had gone missing.
They’ve both promised to cooperate in future enquiries and are reportedly preparing a dossier that proves their innocence.
CITIZENSHIP FOR SALE
The alleged rogue traders are not the only ones to seize on Vanuatu’s offer of passports.
Since January 2020, 2,000 people have purchased citizenship to the remote Pacific island, which has a population of 300,000 people, according to the Guardian.
In fact, anyone can get a passport via the government’s citizenship-by-investment (CBI) scheme as long as they pay £95,000 for each application.
If successful, applicants get visa-free travel throughout the UK and EU.
These schemes are not illegal and are quite common among small countries and in the last year, helped Vanuatu earn £72million – some 42% of all government revenue in 2020, analysis by Investment Migration Insider claims.
Among those to get one is former Indian politician Vinay Mishra, who was accused of fleeing India during a corruption investigation involving the smuggling of cattle and coal.
Others include disgraced Syrian politician Alaa Ibrahhim, Gianluigi Torzi – an Italian businessman who extorted the Vatican of €15million to buy a luxury London property – and ex-Libya Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
Floyd Mera, the director of Vanuatu’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), said those with “substantial convictions” could have their citizenships revoked.
He added: “Going forward, the FIU will conduct enhanced checks… If any of these persons have criminal convictions, FIU will promptly inform Citizenship Office of the updated information.”
South African police said Raees and Ameer sold off their Lamborghini Huracan, a luxury suite at one of country’s most expensive hotels and a rented beachside apartment in Durban weeks before their disappearance.
They then sent investors an oddly-worded email begging them not to alert authorities about the hacking because it would “delay” the retrieval of money.
Ameer told stakeholders that it was “unknown to us the extent of personal client information breached during the attack”.
Lawyers also claim the shady traders kicked staff off Africrypt’s end programmes seven days before the alleged attack.
An investigation into the ordeal found that in November 2020, investors began noticing a string of strange transfers from their Bitcoin wallets using “dark web” technologies – effectively rendering them untraceable, according to a law firm representing investors.
“We were immediately suspicious as the announcement implored investors not to take legal action,” Hanekom Attorneys, which is representing investors, later said in a statement.
Lawyers claim Africrypt smuggled the funds out by pooling investor cash with other bitcoin transactions in order to make them untraceable.
Gerhard Botha, a Johannesburg lawyer representing 58 investors, was able to obtain a provisional liquidation order against the fugitives.
What is Bitcoin?
BITCOIN got you baffled? Here’s what you need to know:
- Bitcoin is a virtual currency
- It’s traded between people without the help of a bank
- Every transaction is recorded in a public ledger, or “blockchain”
- Bitcoin is created by mining
- Mining involves solving difficult maths problems using computer processors
- Bitcoin can be traded anonymously, which can make it a popular way of funding illegal activities
- The value of Bitcoin fluctuates wildly
- Bitcoin is one of many different cryptocurrencies, but by far the most popular
The brothers have until July 19 to argue against the liquidation, The Post reported.
Ameer and Raees launched Africrypt in 2019 and were lauded for the success of their company in a December cover story by local outlet The Umhlanga Magazine.
The story has since been taken offline.