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US Accuses Onyema, Air Peace Boss of $20m Fraud

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United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, said it has charged Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, chairman, CEO, and founder of Air Peace, with bank fraud and money laundering for moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.

 

Ejiroghene Eghagha, the airline’s chief of Administration and Finance, has also been charged with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.

 

“Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.

 

“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.”

 

Robert J. Murphy, special agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division commented on the indictment, “Allen Onyema’s status as a wealthy businessman turned out to be a fraud. He corrupted the U.S. banking system, but his trail of deceit and trickery came to a skidding halt. DEA would like to thank the many law enforcement partners and the subsequent prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office who aided in making this investigation a success.”

 

“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,” said Thomas J. Holloman, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Office.

 

“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.”

 

“Onyema setup various innocent sounding multi-million dollar asset purchases which were nothing more than alleged fronts for his scam,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in Georgia and Alabama.

 

“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.”

 

According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the indictment, and other information presented in court: Onyema, a Nigerian citizen and businessman, is the founder and Chairman of several organizations that purport to promote peace across Nigeria, including the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, and All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited.

 

Beginning in 2010, Onyema began travelling frequently to Atlanta, where he opened several personal and business bank accounts.  Between 2010 and 2018, over $44.9 million was allegedly transferred into his Atlanta-based accounts from foreign sources.

 

Onyema is also the CEO and Chairman of Nigerian airline Air Peace, which he founded in 2013. In years following the founding of Air Peace, he traveled to the United States and purchased multiple airplanes for the airline.

 

However, over $3 million of the funds used to purchase the aircraft allegedly came from bank accounts for Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.

 

Beginning in approximately May 2016, Onyema, together with Eghagha, allegedly used a series of export letters of credit to cause banks to transfer more than $20 million into Atlanta-based bank accounts controlled by Onyema.

 

The letters of credit were purportedly to fund the purchase of five separate Boeing 737 passenger planes by Air Peace.  The letters were supported by documents such as purchase agreements, bills of sale, and appraisals proving that Air Peace was purchasing the aircraft from Springfield Aviation Company LLC, a business registered in Georgia.

 

However, the supporting documents were fake — Springfield Aviation Company LLC, which is owned by Onyema and managed by a person with no connection to the aviation business, never owned the aircraft, and the company that allegedly drafted the appraisals did not exist.

 

Eghagha allegedly participated in this scheme as well, directing the Springfield Aviation manager to sign and send false documents to banks and even using the manager’s identity to further the fraud.  After Onyema received the money in the United States, he allegedly laundered over $16 million of the proceeds of the fraud by transferring it to other accounts.

 

Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, 56, of Lagos, Nigeria, and Ejiroghene Eghagha, 37, of Lagos, Nigeria, were indicted on November 19, 2019, 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.

 

Members of the public are 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 Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Commerce, and Department of Treasury are investigating this case.

 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Garrett L. Bradford, Deputy Chief of the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section and Lead Strike Force Attorney, Irina K. Dutcher, and Christopher J. Huber, Deputy Chief of the Complex Frauds Section, are prosecuting the case, with assistance from the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and Office of International Affairs.

 

This prosecution was brought as a part of the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Co-located Strike Forces Initiative, which enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations against a continuum of priority targets and their affiliate illicit financial networks.

 

These prosecutor-led co-located Strike Forces capitalize on the synergy created through the long-term relationships that can be forged by agents, analysts, and prosecutors who remain together over time, and they epitomize the model that has proven most effective in combating organized crime.

 

The specific mission of the Atlanta Strike Force is to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug trafficking and money laundering organizations designated as Consolidated Priority Organization Targets or Regional Priority Organization Targets and their affiliates impacting the Atlanta metropolitan area and the Northern District of Georgia.


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NDDC Spent N1.5Bn on COVID-19 Palliative for Staff— MD

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Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), has reportedly spent some N1.5 billion on staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds’.

NDDC Spent N1.5Bn on COVID-19 Palliative for Staff— MD

Kemebradikumo Pondei, acting managing director, made the investigative hearing on the N40 billion corruption allegation against the commission.

The Senate had on May 5 set up a seven-man ad-hoc committee to investigate the “financial recklessness” of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the commission.

The lawmakers said, within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40 billion of the commission’s fund ”without recourse to established processes of funds disbursement which has opened up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region.”

They also faulted the IMC’s ”arbitrary use of executive power in an alleged wrongful sacking of management staff without recourse to established civil service rules and practice with the aim of allegedly concealing the fraudulent financial recklessness they have committed.”

Mr Pondei and other delegates from the commission appeared before the committee on Thursday for the hearing.

Part of the audit report read out by Olubunmi Adetunmbi, chairman of the committee, said N3.1 billion was spent as COVID-19 funds between October 2019 and May 2020.

In the report, the lawmaker said ”N10 million was paid to one person, N7 million to two people, N5 million to three people, 148 people took N3 million each, 157 people got N1.5 million each, 497 people got N1 million each and 464 people were paid N600,000 each.”

Another N475 million was given to the police to purchase face masks and hand sanitisers, he added.

Responding to questions regarding the COVID-19 Relief Fund paid to NDDC staff, the MD said ”only N1.5 billion was used to take care of staff” despite being paid their salaries.

He explained that part of the fund was for the youth of Niger Delta.

”The youth were given palliatives to help cushion the effect of the pandemic on the people. The youth were idle and to avoid violence, they were paid,” he said.

“Five million for youths and five million for women and five million for people living with disabilities in each senatorial district,” he said.

He said ”the remaining fund was spent on staff of the commission.”

“We used it to take care of ourselves. We are NDDC, we need to take care of ourselves too,” he said.

He further explained that the IMC inherited debts upon assumption of office ”that needed to be cleared on time.”

He said the previous management owed hotels and had unpaid electricity bills of about N26 million.

When asked why the police was given N475 million, Mr Pondei said a request was made from ”the high command of police and the management took a look at it and approved it.”

He explained that the money ”was an intervention and the NDDC is expecting a report as to how the money was spent.”

Meanwhile, Cairo Ojougboh, acting deputy director, projects, added that the money given to police is for nine states of the Niger Delta region.

The investigative hearing will continue on Friday, the chairman said.


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NIPOST Workers Threaten Strike Action over Stamp Duty

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Workers of the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) have given 21 days for the federal government to intervene on the alleged “usurpation of her function and duties” by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

NIPOST Workers Threaten Strike Action over Stamp Duty

The workers under the auspices of Senior Staff of Statutory Corporations and Government Owned Companies (SSASCGOC) in Abuja Thursday, said printing of stamp duties by FIRS, a statutory duty carried out by NIPOST, is unacceptable.

Comrade Ayo Olorunfemi, general secretary of SSASCGOC, , told journalists in Abuja that the federal government must bring together all the stakeholders to resolve the issue to avert the industrial action at the expiration of the ultimatum.

Olorunfemi frowned at the situation whereby FIRS has decided to take over the production of stamps which led to many Nigerians to stop purchasing adhesive stamps from NIPOST.

According to him, the union may seek legal redress on the situation which he said could cause about 15, 000 workers to lose their jobs.

“To this end, we are calling on the federal government to facilitate an urgent meeting between NIPOST, FIRS, SSASCGOC, and other stakeholders in order to arrive at an amicable resolution. Failure to do this within 21 days from Thursday, July 9, 2020, we shall have no other option than to direct all our members in NIPOST to withdraw their services.

“It is very painful that while other nations are protecting and developing their postal services and making maximum use of the services for advancement, Nigeria is busy doing things that will kill its own.”


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Nigeria Develops Diagnostic Kit for COVID-19

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Nigeria’s efforts at developing solution to the challenge of non-availability and high cost of coronavirus diagnostic kits have finally paid off with the development of RNASwift Extraction kit.

Nigeria Develops Diagnostic Kit for COVID-19

This was disclosed by Prof. Alex Akpa, director-general of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), on Thursday during a news briefing held at the conference room of Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Abuja.

He said the RNASwift test kit would not only revolutionalise Africa’s PCR-Based COVID-19 testing, but will also expand the capacity by 50 times at least.

Akpa also said it would equally reduce cost by over 500 per cent as compared to the conventional kit in use.

“This meets the demands of the Test Africa Initiative. The kits will be produced in Nigeria, which is great news considering that it will enable preference to be given to the testing needs of Africa.

“The need for the invention was conceived by the request from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), to test five million farmers and farm hands.

“This was to ensure that our food security chain was not compromised by COVID-19,’’ the D-G said.

According to him, the RNASwift test kit is an indigenous diagnostic test kit designed, developed and validated in Nigeria for the identification of the causal agent, SARS-Cov-2, which causes COVID-19.

He noted that the diagnostic kit is “very accurate and sensitive’’ and competes favourably with conventional and commercially available kits for the diagnosis of COVID-19.

“This is in addition to a careful choice of reagents that are human and environmentally friendly in the development of the protocol for the diagnostic kit.

“In fact, the attributes of the RNASwift kits make it a game changer in the design and production of diagnostic kits for infectious diseases in the face of an epidemic or a pandemic,’’ Akpa said.

He further said that the project was made possible due to the scientific collaboration between the NABDA, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR).

Prof. Akpa added that the technical support team of University of Sheffield, led by Dr Alison Nwokeoji, also made the project successful.

In his speech at the briefing, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, minister of Science and Technology, recalled that the first index case of COVID-19 was recorded in Nigeria on Feb. 27.

Onu said he had tasked Nigerian scientists to come up with a solution with the sum of N36 million pledge.

The Minister said Nigerians were creative and talented enough to develop home grown solutions to major challenges confronting the country, Africa and the world, with the RNASwift test kit as an example.

“Today, the RNASwift extraction kit developed by Nigerian scientists has capacity in an accurate, sensitive and affordable cost to detect SARS-Cov2, the causative agent of COVID-19.

“With the RNASwift test kit, we are going to test five million farmers, and the new test kit will reduced cost drastically,’’ Onu said.

He hinted that the African Development Bank was interested in it, not only as Test Africa Initiative, but that Nigeria should be the rallying point.

Similarly, he said the other African countries stood to benefit from the test kits due to the low cost.

The minister commended NABDA and said the agency had not only made the Ministry proud but Nigeria as a whole.

Alhaji Sabo Nanono, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the test kit invented and developed was very critical to the present situation of insufficient test kits.

He said the FMARD was in the forefront when it came to food security, adding that with the invention and successful validation of the test kit, it was time for Nigerians to look inwards.

“We have talents and we need to develop and build on these talents, we will realise our target of testing five million farmers and Nigerians would be proud of this test kits,’’ Nanono said.

He applauded NABDA for the project, saying the success of the test kit was a milestone recorded in the FMST.

Speaking to newsmen on the sideline of the briefing, Dr Rose Gidado, Scientist and Deputy Director at NABDA, said the day was remarkable and historic for the agency, the ministry as well as Nigerians.

She said the new test kits could test more than 20,000 people a day but if more testing centres were set up, it could go up to 50,000 with automation.

The Scientist added that the need to test more Nigerians was necessary in order to isolate and treat.

 

 


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