- The CEO of Nigerian Airline Air Peace has been indicted on charges of bank fraud and money laundering by the U.S Department of Justice
- He has been accused of moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes
- Air Peace Chief of Administration and Finance, Mrs Ejiroghene Eghagha, has also been charged with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft
Friday night fraud allegations
In a press release seen by Business Insider SSA on Friday night of November 22, 2019, the United States Department of Justice indicted the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Air Peace, Mr Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, of bank fraud and money laundering to the tune of more than $20 million (N7.2 billion). The Airline's Chief of Administration and Finance, Mrs Ejiroghene Eghagha, has also been charged with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft.
How many charges are there?
Per the press release, Allen Onyema and Ejiroghene Eghagha were indicted on November 19, 2019, for the following:
- One count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud
- Three counts of bank fraud
- One count of conspiracy to commit credit application fraud
- Three counts of credit application fraud
- Mr Onyema was also charged with 27 counts of money laundering while Mrs Eghagha was charged with one count of aggravated identity theft
A breakdown of the alleged criminal activity
- Onyema started traveling to Atlanta frequently in 2010
- The DOJ says between 2010 and 2018, over $44.9 million was allegedly transferred into his Atlanta-based accounts from foreign sources
- Onyema also set up foundations meant to spread peace: Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, and All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited
- Onyema founded Air Peace in 2013 and in the years since purchased multiple planes for the airline
- However, over $3 million of the money used to purchase the planes came from the foundations he set up.
- In 2016, Onyema and Eghagha allegedly used a series of export letters of credit (LOC) to cause banks to transfer more than $20 million into Atlanta-based bank accounts Onyema owned
- The LOCs were meant to fund the purchase of five separate Boeing 737 passenger planes by Air Peace
- Onyema and Eghagha used supporting documents like purchase agreements, bills of sale, and appraisals to prove that Air Peace was purchasing the aircraft from a company called Springfield Aviation Company LLC
- The DOJ alleges the supporting documents were fake
- Springfield Aviation Company LLC never owned the aircrafts sold to Air Peace and the company that allegedly drafted the appraisals did not exist.
- Springfield Aviation Company LLC is apparently owned by Onyema and managed by a person with no connection to the aviation business
- Eghagha allegedly participated in the fraud by directing the Springfield Aviation manager to sign and send false documents to banks
- Eghagha allegedly also used the manager’s identity to further the fraud
- After Onyema received the money in the United States for the planes, he allegedly laundered over $16 million of the proceeds of the fraud to other accounts.
What the American Law enforcement officials said
According to U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak, Mr Onyema "Allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud."
He continued: “We will diligently protect the integrity our banking system from being corrupted by criminals, even when they disguise themselves in a cloak of international business.”
According to said Thomas J. Holloman, IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Office, “This case is a prime example of why IRS-CI seeks to partner and leverage its expertise in an effort to thwart those seeking to exploit our nation’s financial system.”
He continued: “With the importance of our banking system to the movement of money around the world, those attempting to use intricate schemes to commit bank fraud through the use of falsified documents and other means should know that the odds are now heavily stacked against them as law enforcement is combining its talents to protect the sanctity and integrity of the nation’s financial system.”
According to Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama: “Onyema setup various innocent sounding multi-million dollar asset purchases which were nothing more than alleged fronts for his scam. I’m proud to be part of a team of law enforcement agencies that come together to identify and attack criminals that attempt to profit from the exploitation of our nation’s financial systems.”
Important reminder: Both individuals are innocent until proven guilty
These are just charges. The U.S Department of Justice has to prove its case.