A 41-year-old Nigerian national has been remanded in custody after being brought to Malta from the United Kingdom to face romance fraud scam and money laundering charges.
Johnson Anene, who lived in St Paul’s Bay before leaving for the UK, appeared in court on Wednesday morning, June 15, after being arrested in Britain and transferred to the custody of the Maltese authorities on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant.
He pleaded not guilty to a raft of money laundering charges, receiving stolen goods, and being a repeat offender.
Anene had been placed on the wanted list by the police in connection with the arraignment, last year, of several other individuals accused of playing a part in an online romance fraud scam. One of the accused was former footballer Sunday Eboh.
The group’s elderly victim had been duped into sending money to a person pretending to be a lonely American soldier deployed in Afghanistan. That case is still ongoing.
During Anene’s hearing, the court was told that the ongoing investigations into the romance fraud scheme, being carried out by Paola district police, together with the Financial Crime Unit, had identified Anene.
Prosecuting lawyers Abigail Caruana Vella, Sean Xerri de Caro and Karl Muscat, together with Inspectors Claire Borg, Sarah Kathleen Zerafa asked Magistrate Rachel Montebello to also impose a freezing order over all Anene’s assets.
Defence counsel lawyer Rachel Tua informed the court that Anene was not aware of the international arrest warrant issued for him, however, he had since not contested the validity of the arrest and had come willingly to Malta to prove his innocence.
She made a request for bail, emphasising that Anene’s children and family members still reside in Malta and there is no fear of him absconding.
“When it comes to the tampering of evidence, we have given full details to the police of the person we believe is the mastermind or the alleged scammer, let’s say. We don’t want any tampering, we want the truth to come to light.” Tua added.
The request was opposed by the prosecution, who argued that the investigation had revealed that Anene had fled Malta to escape prosecution for these crimes, adding that he had broken the law before and that he was not living at his listed address in the UK, making it very difficult to locate him
“This man has broken the law before and he isn’t trustworthy,” Abigail Caruana Vella from the Attorney General’s office added.
The court did not uphold the bail request, ordering the man to be remanded in custody.