Imagine a child prodigy and early bitcoin adopter starting a company from his bedroom in 2013. Then his brother joins forces with him in 2019 to create a company that’s at the cutting edge of cryptocurrency and AI trading. This is the fairytale of the startup Africrypt that brothers Raess (21) and Ameer Cajee (18) told their investors.
The two brothers received millions of Rands in deposits from investors who were promised monthly profits of approximately 10%. Their product was a cryptocurrency trading platform powered by artificial intelligence (AI). They also promised to deliver a coin known as Africoin. They aimed to change the way payments were made between banks, payment processors, and cryptocurrency exchanges according to their investor presentation.
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On April 6, 2021, the Africrypt client portal went down. Ameer Cajee issued a letter to all of their investors on April 13, 2021, notifying them that the platform had been hacked and that all of their bitcoin holdings had been stolen. Investors were advised not to pursue legal action, claiming that doing so would prolong the search for the lost bitcoin. They left South Africa shortly after this statement and are thought to be hiding in the United Kingdom.
The firm is presently under liquidation, and lawyers representing investors are hoping to recoup some of their clients’ money. The official amount of R56 billion reported in the media is exaggerated, as the liquidation procedures only seek R140 million. According to Gerhard Botha, the attorney representing the investors seeking claims, this may reach R500 million. According to the brothers, during the height of the firm, they handled $200 million (about R2 billion rand).
What went wrong?
The Financial Service Conduct Authority (FSCA) issued a warning against Africrypt on June 24, 2021, only after the firm had collapsed, claiming that the company’s returns resembled a Ponzi scheme. The plan was doomed to fail as soon as new members dried up because it had no genuine trading income.
Africrypt does not rely on member recruiting, unlike Mirror Trading International (MTI), which secured South Africa’s top spot as the world’s crypto scam capital in 2020. Rather, the brothers enticed more affluent investors with three levels of investment packages.
The minimum investments for the three levels, Passive Portfolio, Passive Aggressive Portfolio, and Aggressive Portfolio, ranged from R10,000 to R1,000,000.
They also offered insurance to cover the first two bundles’ investment cash. At the bottom of their presentation, they included a disclaimer – “Africrypt does not deal with financial products as defined under FAIS. As such, Africrypt is not registered as a financial services provider under FAIS.” The Financial Advisory and Intermediary Service Act (FAIS) Act protects consumers when it comes to financial goods. They were accurate in their assertion that bitcoin trading is not regulated as a financial service. However, because they accepted Rand deposits, they would be in violation of the FAIS laws because their service would be classed as an investment security.
There were several red flags indicating that the firm was not authentic. The brothers were enjoying a lavish lifestyle that outstripped their earnings. They lived in the exclusive Zimbali coastal estate in Kwazulu-Natal and drove Lamborghinis. Furthermore, there was no independent confirmation of their trading bot. The ROI figures were merely numbers on a screen.
On 3 December 2020, a user posted on the MyBroadband forum thread called “Crypto scammers?” asking for advice on Africrypt.
When individuals seek guidance on new tech-related schemes that spring up, this forum is typically in high demand. Raess Cajee engaged in the chat and attempted to answer the members’ concerns. He was unable to respond to their genuine inquiries and fell silent as a result. The topic resurfaced once word of Africrypt’s collapse emerged. Raees Cajee asked for advice on his freshly constructed website for his firm Raetech on the same forum in 2016.
People with questionable sources of money are often drawn to investment schemes like these. The money is placed into the scheme and enters the financial system to make it more genuine. As Raess told the Wall Street Journal, the brothers became aware of the problem: “Some particularly very, very dangerous people—that we had not actually known were clients—have started to come out of the cracks.”
Juan Meyer, a former business associate of Czech criminal Radovan Krejcir, filed the motion to dissolve Africrypt, seeking R41 million in damages. In May 2010, he was arrested in Sandton for smuggling R20 million in gold from his gold refinery. He was also a promoter of Karatbars, a gold-backed cryptocurrency that ended up being a rip-off. The Facebook page of Aurum Invest still has this promotional Karatbars material available.
The bitcoin brothers have until July 19, 2021 to provide justifications for why the liquidation should not take place. Surprisingly, long before Africrypt, the Cajee brothers had another investment idea called RaeCreate Wealth Limited. It was also suddenly hacked and all bitcoin was stolen.
“We believe, and we now have more evidence to suggest, that the Cajees were acting on behalf of a much bigger international syndicate,” says Darren Hanekom, of Hanekom Attorneys. “This was a money-laundering operation.”
On 15 July 2021, the Guardian reported that Africrypt brothers were granted citizenship by the pacific island of Vanuatu. In their “golden passports” scheme, foreign nationals are able to purchase citizenship for US$130,000. This process is said to take just over a month and can be done electronically.