A Singaporean woman who was recruited by a Malaysia-based Nigerian love scammer, Awolola Oladayo Opeyemi, has been sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for her role in the scam.
32-year-old Suhaili Suparjo fell in love with Opeyemi and had a daughter with him. Persuaded by him and “blinded by love”, she acted as his money mule and laundered more than S$356,000 in criminal proceeds for him.
She was sentenced on Tuesday, February 21, 2023, in Singapore, after pleading guilty to two counts of helping to retain benefits from criminal conduct, under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.
Another four charges were taken into consideration.
The court heard that Suhaili was recruited by Opeyemi, who was a member of a Nigerian criminal group carrying out scams worldwide while based in Malaysia.
In December 2021, Opeyemi, then 37, was sentenced in a Singapore district court to five years’ jail after he pleaded guilty to three counts of working with others to receive the benefits of criminal conduct linked to more than $550,000 in loses.
Opeyemi was sentenced alongside another Nigerian, Awolola Gbolahan Ayobami. He also recruited Norhafiza Samsudin, who also bore him a child.
Ayobami, who admitted to two counts of working with others to receive the benefits of criminal conduct linked to $150,000 in losses, was ordered to spend four years and two months behind bars.
Opeyemi targeted Suhaili as part of a love scam, cultivating a romantic relationship with her.
He then got Suhaili to act as his money mule. She would receive cash in person and through her bank accounts.
When Suhaili’s POSB bank account was frozen following police investigations into love scams, she allowed Awolola to use her OCBC bank account to receive funds.
Between June and August of 2017, the account was used to receive a total of S$255,935 from four victims in Singapore, Canada and Macau.
Every now and then, Suhaili would withdraw money from her account before travelling to Malaysia to pass the cash to Awolola, who never stepped foot in Singapore.
Awolola and another scammer were arrested in Malaysia in 2019 and later handed over to Singapore, in what was the first time that love scam suspects based overseas were arrested and brought to Singapore for prosecution.
The prosecutor called for 15 months’ jail for Suhaili.
Suhaili’s lawyer, Ms Yamuna Balakrishnan of Abdul Rahman Law, said her client met Awolola on Facebook in late 2016.
He said he was a student at a college in Kuala Lumpur and lived there on a student pass.
Suhaili agreed to befriend Awolola as she was intrigued by the fact that a man of a different nationality was taking interest in her, said the lawyer.
His Facebook account appeared legitimate, with images of himself and his social lifestyle flooding his social media.
Suhaili grew closer to Awolola, texting, calling and video-calling him. She liked the attention he gave her as well as his “sweet gestures”, which were “a far cry from the many men she had dated or met”, said Ms Yamuna.
They later met at Johor Bahru City Square to have milkshakes and doughnuts and Suhaili thought Awolola was her “dream guy”, said the lawyer.
Blinded by her “newfound fairy-tale love”, Suhaili was ready to defy her mother’s wishes and live with Awolola in Malaysia.
She was later introduced to Awolola’s friends as his girlfriend. His friends said it was the first time he introduced a woman to them and said he was indeed in love and serious.
Around February or March 2017, Suhaili discovered that she was pregnant. Awolola was happy with the pregnancy and told Suhaili to keep the baby.
He said he would do anything to marry Suhaili, including converting to Islam, said Ms Yamuna.
She said Awolola accompanied Suhaili to every medical check-up in Malaysia.
Awolola began asking to use Suhaili’s bank account to transfer and withdraw money, that he said was from an overseas friend.
Ms Yamuna said that Suhaili acted in accordance with Awolola’s instructions, including giving cover-up stories to Singaporean police for the illegal transactions.
After she found out about the crimes, Suhaili continued to help Awolola.
According to her lawyer, this was because Awolola would gaslight her by screaming: “If you choose to leave me, you will end up being a single mum and raise this child alone.”
Ms Yamuna claimed that Suhaili tried to reject Awolola’s request on one occasion, but Awolola pushed the heavily pregnant woman to the ground.
In September 2017, Suhaili went into labour and fainted at Customs and gave birth to a slightly premature daughter.
Her lawyer said Awolola had been an absent father and had not assisted Suhaili financially in raising the child.
Suhaili did not gain a dime from the crimes, argued the lawyer.
After Awolola was sentenced to jail, he sent Suhaili a message on Facebook saying he was serving his sentence.
He asked for forgiveness but Suhaili no longer wanted to be deceived by him and ignored him, said Ms Yamuna.
She asked for a year’s jail, saying a lengthy sentence would have a devastating effect on Suhaili’s daughter, who relies solely on Suhaili.
The judge allowed Suhaili to defer her jail term to March, 2023.