Where are Ameer Cajee and Raees Cajee, two brothers barely out of their teens, and what has – unreliably – been reported to be some R50 billion worth of crypto tokens?
Somewhere WhatsApp is banned, their family in South Africa believe, based on the very limited clues they’ve been able to gather.
“We really don’t know,” says Zakira Laher their cousin and former fellow director at Africrypt, the bitcoin-focussed company at the centre of what is now a global enquiry.
It is a phrase Laher uses a lot. She, and the rest of the extended family she says, know very little. They are not in direct communication with the brothers, and last heard from them months ago. The family knows the brothers left the country. Via third parties who know them, the family has learnt that the Cajee’s lives are thought to be in danger. But is the threat from disgruntled investors, some of whom say they lost millions of rands in what they now believe to be an exit scam – or is the threat from some huge crime syndicate some now believe the Cajee’s allegedly helped with money laundering?
“We don’t know,” Laher tells Business Insider South Africa.
Laher first learnt of trouble with Africrypt, she says, when her father-in-law received notice of the intended liquidation of Africrypt, as someone who had invested money with it. Then her father-in-law pointed her to an article, published on Wednesday, that suggests up to R54 billion worth of cryptocurrency was stolen from wallets assigned to Africrypt investors.
Now, as the person with the closest ties to the company who can be reached, she is fielding calls from the police, and angry investors, while fearing for the safety of her own family, which includes her one-week-old baby.
She is exhausted, says Laher, but is trying to share what she knows with those who come looking, because she is terrified of being held responsible for what is, if not one of the biggest scams in history, then certainly a lot of mysteriously absent money.
In a since-deleted profile that ran on the cover of the December issue of The Umglanga Magazine, the Cajee brothers credited Laher with part of their success, saying she had “assisted us as a legal advisor for several years”. Company records show that she joined Africrypt as a director in August 2019, and later resigned. What the records do not capture, Laher says, is that she was only very peripherally involved, drew no benefit from Africrypt, and is herself still owed money.
She accepted the company directorship to help boost Africrypt’s empowerment credentials, as an Indian female, Laher says. Her cousins had asked her for help with contracts for their startup – she is an assistant, and law student – and she was excited to be part of something being created on the back of “mathematical whizz” Raees Cajee’s teenage experience as an early bitcoin miner.
In return she was promised wages, which never materialised, and told a crypto wallet had been established in her name, from which she never saw a cent. Around October 2020 she walked out with a company laptop, demanding the money she believed she was owed before she would return it. After a call from another family member, she returned the laptop – without getting any cash.
Not long after, evidence now being pieced together suggests, strange things started to happen at Africrypt. In November, investors started having trouble getting statements out of the company. At around the same time, strange transfers happened out of bitcoin wallets supposedly owned by those investors.
Then on 13 April, the company sent some investors a message, saying that “client wallets and nodes were all compromised”, and it was halting operations. Getting the money back would “take a substantial amount of time to complete, if successful.” Should investors turn to legal proceedings to get back their money, that “will only delay the recovery process”.
At about the same time, the brothers Cajee dropped out of communication with their extended family, says Laher.
Investors who have stepped forward say they are owed millions of rands. Lawyers who represent other investors say they are confident hundreds of millions of rands were entrusted to Africrypt. But “only the Cajees” can say exactly how much money is actually involved, says the man behind the headline-grabbing number of more than R50 billion, in the form of at least 69,000 bitcoin.
Those numbers come from a pooled account that “went to zero at the same time they say they were hacked,” specialist crypto-currency regulatory compliance lawyer Darren Hanekom told Business Insider SA.
Hanekom is now involved in recovery efforts, trying to trace bitcoin in what he describes as a complex arrangement, involving elements suggestive of money laundering.
His work, Hanekom says, shows the brothers had “a lot of money before the business started two years ago”, though he does not know the source. Laher may be able to help with that; Raees was a very early bitcoin miner, she says; if he cashed out some tokens, that could have been a legitimate source of personal wealth.
And that clouds matters somewhat. The brothers Cajee were living an extravagant, flashy lifestyle, says Laher, one that could not have been funded by a humble startup. Could they have been living it large with money stolen from investors? Perhaps. Or perhaps they had made it big in crypto, and were spending their own money.
“We don’t know,” she says. But their family do not think it inconceivable that they were the victims of a genuine hacking and, realising they would not be able to explain it to the satisfaction of some very angry people, decided going on the run was the safest thing to do.
Either way, they have left their family facing the music. While she worked for Africrypt she received some petrol money, and “they took me to lunch a couple of times, that is literally all I saw,” says Laher.
Now people are asking her for their money, and she doesn’t know what to tell them. “And I’m terrified for my life, I don’t have R50 billion to run to the UK or Dubai or China or wherever they are in the world.”