Narrow Escape from Criminal Syndicate

Monrovia-Making public one’s contacts can be both profitable and harmful, as I have learnt. I have made available my contacts to the public on several occasions. On a number of occasions I wrote my contacts at the bottom of articles I wrote for publication in newspapers. And once when I granted an interview to a local newspaper, I announced my cell number upon the request of the presenter. I received several calls from criminals and some well-meaning people.

It was one Friday in August when I received a strange call from one Hudge on a number that read: 44-7045-747740. Like the number indicated, Hudge told me he was calling from London. He claimed he was working for a mineral trading company in London, and that they purchase precious stones from Africa to sell on the World market.

He asked whether I had access to anybody involved in mining ‘Emerald’ on the Liberia/Sierra Leone border. When I told him no, he told me to contact one Oldman Zaway who he said, was one of those involved in mining ‘Emerald’ in Liberia. This was my first time hearing that emerald is found in Liberia. To further convince me, he intimated that Oldman Zaway supplied the late Senator Keikura Kpoto with this mineral, which he sold abroad. He said I could contact Oldman Zaway on cell number 231-777075626. “Keikura Kpoto bought a carat of this precious metal for USD250 and sold it for USD650 to buyers abroad.” His company, he informed me was in need of 3,000 carats of this precious metal. I swallowed a spit after I calculated how much profit I stood to make if I succeeded in sealing this deal.  At first I thought I was in dream world, but realized that it was broad daylight when I woke up from my reverie.

I then called Oldman Zaway who answered promptly. Apparently, this was an international syndicate, as I observed later. I told him I knew that he used to supply the late Keikura Kpoto with ‘Emerald’ and asked whether he was still involved in the business. When he answered in the affirmative, I asked whether he could supply me with 3,000 Carats of the precious gem. “I have to contact other miners so that we can combine what we have and let you know,” Zaway answered.

He then asked me to send $20 worth of Cellcom scratch cards to encourage his other colleagues to sell to me whatever they had.  This I did without hesitation or second thought. After a few minutes, Oldman Zaway called and let me know that he had convinced his colleagues to give me whatever they had in stock. “We have packages for other customers, but because you are urgently in need of this consignment, we will give it to you,” he assured me. I then beeped Hudge, and when he called back,  I relayed to him what Oldman Zaway and I had arrived at.

What made me to begin to suspect that all was not well was the urgency with which Hudge said they wanted the goods. He connected me with his boss, who spoke to me with an impeccable British accent. The doubts I had earlier harbored were dispelled when I heard Hudge’s boss. He told me that they would pay USD500 per Carat, instead of USD650 I asked for. If I could assure them that the goods would be ready by Sunday, he added, they would be in Monrovia to pick them up.

After Hudge’s boss hung up, Hudge himself called me again and informed me that I should speed up the deal with Oldman Zaway because his boss was on his way to Ghana to purchase a ticket to fly to Monrovia. “He commended me for sealing the deal with you. He will be in Monrovia on Sunday  for the 3,000 Carats,” he said.

I then called Oldman Zaway and informed him about the urgency of the deal and that I would appreciate were he to send the goods by Saturday evening because my customers from Britain would be in Monrovia on Sunday to pick it up. He consented promptly. “Tomorrow I will send two of my boys with the goods. If you don’t want them to hear your conversation with your customers, then don’t allow them to enter their hotel room.” Oldman Zaway said.

When I went to bed that night, I hardly knew sleep. My mind navigated to the huge profit I stood to make in the deal, and began building castles in the air. At about 7.00 A.M I called Oldman Zaway and asked when his men would be in Monrovia. “I do not want to disappoint my customers,” I told him. “They will be there by about 5.00 P.M,” Oldman Zaway assured adding, “They should have been there earlier but due to the deplorable condition of the Bo Waterside-Monrovia highway, it will take some time for them to get to Monrovia.”

This is where my second suspicion arose. I thought the Liberia/Sierra Leone border they were referring to was that of Lofa, and not Grand Cape Mount County, because Senator Kpoto hailed from Lofa County. I nonetheless decided not to let my suspicion distract me from making the money I stood to make from the deal. Another thing that aroused my suspicion was Oldman Zaway’s insistence that the two fellows bringing the goods should be lodged in a hotel and not my private home.

I therefore contacted a nearby Motel in the Chicken Soup Factory community. I told the hotel manager that I was expecting a guest and would need a room. Thank God, I did not pay any advance. At about 3.00 P.M, I received a call from a fellow who informed me that he was one of those sent by Oldman Zaway, and that he was waiting for me on the Somalia Drive at the junction of  Chicken Soup Factory, which was about 100 meters from my residence. When I got on the road, I called the number and eventually located them.

Behind  the fellow I had the exchange with was another fellow with  bag on his back. After exchanging greetings, I took them to the Motel I had arranged for them to spend the night. However, from the expressions on their faces, they did not seem to be interested in spending the night.  They walked out of the motel and to my utmost surprise the fellow asked me whether I had the money and rice Oldman Zaway requested.

According to him, Oldman Zaway asked that I immediately make available US$1,000 and 25 bags of rice, which at the current Market price, is worth more than US$1,000.00. He said they had brought a bus to transport the rice to the border.

“Where is the consignment? If you don’t want to display it in public we can go to my house which is just nearby,” I said. “My boss told me not to go to your house,” came the response. I called Oldman Zaway and reminded him that we did not discuss anything about the rice and money he talked about. “I thought you were a respectable oldman; this is why I agreed to do business with you in the first place,” Oldman Zaway said in a rather angry tone. He said he told his boys not to go to my house because they did not know who I was. I then reminded him that I too did not know who they really were and so could not entrust them with such a huge sum of money and 25 bags of rice when I had not seen the consignment we talked about. After a heated exchange between me and Oldman Zaway, the two fellows decided to leave. “I will be waiting at the …hotel when you are ready to give the money and rice,” said one of the fellows and left.

I made the final call to Oldman Zaway in which I informed him that their behavior had confirmed my suspicion that they were a criminal syndicate. I then beeped Hague, and when he called back, I told him to tell his boss not to come, because the goods were not available. He sighed and cut off his phone.

When I told a friend of mine what had transpired, he told me that I was lucky.  He then narrated to me a similar incident involving a friend of his. “In this case, somebody sent US$300 from abroad and told him to buy some gold and send it to him. When he received the money, he bought the gold and sent it. After this first transaction, his contact abroad told him to buy USD1,500 worth of gold and send it,  assuring that he would later send his money and the profit accrued from the deal. The fellow took a loan, bought the gold and sent it. Since then he has not heard from them, and all attempts to contact them proved futile.


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