I’m innocent, says Onyema
The US Department of Justice indicts Airpeace Airlines boss, Mr Allen Onyema, and another executive for wire fraud
The US Attorney General accused Mr Onyema and his Administration and Finance Chief, Ejiroghene Eghagha, of bank fraud, money laundering and identity theft.
They allegedly moved more than $20million from Nigeria to Onyema’s personal and business accounts in the United States.
It was an elaborate scheme to funnel funds from Onyema’s private foundations in Nigeria to his US personal bank accounts, authorities said.
The DOJ recognized that Central Bank of Nigeria approved the transfers for purchase of five Boeing 737 passenger aircraft for Airpeace.
The agency however flagged the transaction because the funds were received in the US by Onyema’s company.
He was accused of not using the transfer to purchase aircrafts as authorized by Nigeria’s Central Bank. Instead, he allegedly transferred chunks of it to his US personal and business accounts. Authorities said this was what fueled suspicion that it could be a money laundering scheme.
US Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak however pointed out 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 indictment
The US attorney general’s office is using the following sequence of actions to perfect its case against the duo:
- Onyema is founder and Chairman of four NGOs in Nigeria. These include 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. Authorities allege that over $3million of funds for aircraft purchases were sourced from four of his Nigerian Foundationss. They were namely Nigerians for Ethnic Harmony, International Centre for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.”
- Authorities also said “more than $20 million” was legally transferred through legitimate export letters of credit for the purchase of five Boeing 737 passenger planes.”
- 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 reports that Onyema denied the charges “in its entirety.”
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.”
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.
Analysts continued to talk up the case in mainstream and social media.
Onyema’s lawyer, Alegeh & Co. also weighed in today with another statement, reproduced below:
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