Australian woman arrested at Japanese airport a victim of love scam, family says #nigeria | #nigeriascams | #lovescams

Her daughters told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the pair had messaged back and forth for months, talking about a potential trip to Brazil to meet Nelson’s daughters and making plans to get married in Nigeria donning traditional African dress.

“Kelly” made efforts to gain Nelson’s trust, sending her an image of a document he claimed was his Japanese residency card and offering to pay for some of her daughters to travel overseas.

He eventually convinced Nelson to visit him in Japan and bought business class tickets to fly her to Tokyo via Singapore, Laos and Vietnam. The family believes it was during her three-day stop in Laos that Nelson met with an associate of “Kelly” and came to be in possession of the bag that Japanese authorities later uncovered at the airport.

One of the hardest things for me when I found out that she was detained was imagining how she must have felt when she realised that this person didn’t love her.

Kristal Hilaire

“One of the hardest things for me when I found out that she was detained was imagining how she must have felt when she realised that this person didn’t love her,” Nelson’s daughter Kristal Hilaire said. “How she must have felt when her heart broke.”

Under Japanese law, people suspected of committing a crime can be detained for up to 23 days without charge while police investigate the allegations.

Suspects are usually held in a police station or immigration detention centre, where they can be interrogated at length without the presence of a lawyer. Japan has no pre-indictment bail system, which means people can’t apply to be released from custody while awaiting charges.

Donna Nelson with members of her family.

Nelson’s daughters said her lawyer had been able to send her pictures of her grandchildren and pass on messages of support. They said she was in good spirits, had access to medication and good food, and was able to exercise.

Her daughter, Ashlee Charles, said Nelson was a doting mother and grandmother, who regularly took in other children going through a tough time. She said her mother “wanted to be loved” and had been encouraged to give online dating a go after two of her daughters met their husbands online.

The family wants Nelson’s experience to serve as a warning to other women searching for a partner online.


“We call her Mother Teresa because she thinks she can save everyone,” Charles said. “She is a person who tries to see the good in people.”

Nelson grew up in Merredin, a small town in WA’s wheatbelt region about 250 kilometres east of Perth. She rose to prominence in the Indigenous community as the chair of Derbarl Yerrigan, a Perth-based health service for Aboriginal families. She was relieved of the role on Tuesday in light of her detention in Japan.

Nelson was also managing director of WA-based Pioneers Aboriginal Corporation, which in May 2019 received $1.65 million to expand a basketball program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children over three years, but did not secure follow-up funding.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it was providing consular assistance to the family, but would not provide further information for privacy reasons.

Nelson’s daughters said department officials had visited her in detention to ensure she was in good health and offered after-hours support to the family.

It is not the first time an Australian has been detained overseas after falling victim to a suspected love scam.

Queensland primary school teacher Yoshe Ann Taylor was detained in Cambodia under similar circumstances in 2013 after she was caught trying to leave the country with two kilograms of heroin hidden in her luggage.

Taylor had previously started an online romance with a Nigerian man, who had lured her to Cambodia with the promise of love and a career in the arts.

She was freed in 2019 after a Cambodian court ruled she had fallen victim to a highly organised scam run by an international drug smuggling syndicate, which tricked her into carrying the luggage.

The case provides some hope to Nelson’s family, who are determined to bring her home.

With Hamish Hastie and Millie Muroi

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