I’m innocent, says Onyema
The US Attorney General has indicted the boss of Airpeace, Nigeria’s favourite airline, Mr. Allen Onyema, and the airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, on charges of bank fraud, money laundering and identity theft, following alleged movement of more than $20million from Nigeria to Onyema’s personal and business accounts in the United States.
In the indictment, Onyema and his accountant are accused of contriving an elaborate scheme to funnel funds from Onyema’s four private foundations in Nigeria to his personal bank accounts in the United States.
Although the transfers were okayed by the Central Bank of Nigeria for purchase of five Boeing 737 passenger aircraft for Airpeace, it was alleged that the funds were received in the US by a company which Onyema himself founded and controls.
In other words, rather than use the transfer to purchase the aircrafts for which they were authorized by Nigeria’s Central Bank, Onyema was said to have transferred chunks of it to his US personal and business accounts, fuelling suspicion that this could be a money laundering scheme.
U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak says members of the public should be reminded that the indictment only contains charges.
“The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.”
The US attorney general’s office is building the case against Onyema and his chief finance and admin officer on a number and sequence of events itemised below:
- Onyema is the founder and Chairman of four NGOs in Nigeria, including the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Centre for Non-Violence and Peace Development, and All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited.
- Within a period of eight years (2010 – 2018), Onyema travelled several times to Atlanta, Georgia where he opened a number of personal and business bank accounts in which he altogether deposited “over $44.9million.”
- His trips to Atlanta were also used to purchase airplanes for Airpeace, but authorities allege that over $3million of funds for aircraft purchases were sourced from four of his Nigerian Foundationss, namely Nigerians for Ethnic Harmony, International Centre for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.”
- The US authorities also said the money was legally transferred through legitimate export letters of credit for the purchase of five Boeing 737 passenger planes to the value of “more than $20 million.”
- The letters of credit were supported by legitimate documents such as purchase agreements, bills of sale, and appraisals proving that Air Peace was purchasing the aircraft from a Georgia registered business, Springfield Aviation Company LLC.
- The problem, according to the indictment, was that Springfield Aviation Company LLC the US company that received the funds, is owned by Allen Onyema himself and “managed by a person with no connection to the aviation business, (and) never owned the aircraft.”
- In addition, it is also alleged that “the company that drafted the appraisals did not exist.”
- Airpeace’s chief accountant, Eghagha, is considered an accomplice and charged alongside Onyema for allegedly directing the Springfield Aviation manager to sign and send false documents to banks and in the process used the manager’s identity to further the alleged fraud.
- Onyema was accused of laundering over $16 million of the funds by transferring it to other accounts rather than use it for aircraft purchase.
- As a result of the foregoing allegations, Chief Allen Onyema and Ejiroghene Eghagha were on Tuesday 19 November 2019, indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, three counts of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit credit application fraud, and three counts of credit application fraud.
- Additionally, Onyema was charged with 27 counts of money laundering, and Eghagha was charged with one count of aggravated identity theft.
I’m not guilty, says Onyema
The BusinessDay newspaper yesterday reported that the Chairman of Airpeace has denied the charges in its entirety because, according to him “every Kobo I transferred to the US for aircraft purchase went through the Central Bank of Nigeria LC regime and all were used for the same purpose.”
According to the newspaper, Onyema said the allegations and indictment “are false and are in no way in line with his character as a person and as a businessman whose only aim has been to build Nigeria and improve wellbeing.
“As the (US) press statement clearly stated, this is an indictment that contains only charges; I am innocent of all charges and the US government will find no dirt on me because I have never conducted business with any illegalities.
“Be rest assured that I also have my lawyers on this, and these mere allegations will be refuted.
“I never laundered money in my life, neither have I committed bank fraud anywhere in the world.
“The American companies that received the funds are still in business. I never took a penny from any US bank or Nigerian bank. I am willing to defend my innocence in the US courts,” Onyema stated.
Onyema’s lawyer, Alegeh & Co. also weighed in today with another statement, reproduced below: