The United States Department of Justice has accused the Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, of fraud and money laundering.
He was alleged to have moved over $20million from Nigeria through his United States bank accounts using fake documents based on the purchase of airplanes.
The Department of Justice alleges that Air Peace’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, was also charged with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with the fraud.
The United States Attorney Byung Pak who’s prosecuting the suspects noted that Mr. Onyema took advantage of his status as a prominent business leader to use falsified documents to commit the fraud.
According to Pak, Air Peace CEO began travelling frequently to Atlanta where he opened several personal and business accounts between 2010 and 2018. He transferred $44.9million from foreign sources to the accounts.
“Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud,” US Attorney Pak said.
“We will diligently protect the integrity of our banking system from being corrupted by criminals, even when they disguise themselves in a cloak of international business,” he added.
“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 $20m 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,” the statement read.
The US DOJ however noted that the documents were fake as Springfield Aviation Company LLC is another company owned by Mr. Onyema and managed by a person with no connection to aviation business.
The statement further reveals that the aircraft were not owned by the company and the company that drafted the appraisals is not in existence.
“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 $16m of the proceeds of the fraud by transferring it to other accounts,” it added.
The US DOJ however noted that Mr. Onyema is innocent until proven guilty.
“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.”
Air Peace CEO, Onyema, denies allegations
Mr. Allen Onyema in his reaction to the development described the accusations against him as false.
He noted that he never defrauded any bank and every kobo he transferred for the purchase of aircrafts went through the Central Bank of Nigeria. He said that he never conducted business with any illegalities.
He vowed to defend his innocence in the US court.
“I confirm to you that all allegations are false and are in no way in line with my character as a person and as a business man whose only aim has been to build Nigeria and improve wellbeing.
“As the press statement clearly stated, these are indictments that only contain 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.”
“I never laundered money in my life, neither have I committed bank fraud anywhere in the world. 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.
“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 said in his reaction.
Jonathan Dennis is an Editor at Naija Buzz News Network. He oversees the production and publication of stories on NaijaBuzz.News and on Naija Buzz News TV. The former banker left his banking job to join Naija Buzz News in 2019. He was briefly the head of the “Wetin Dey Happen” news team. Jonathan is a proud ‘Akwa-Ibomite’ from Akwa Ibom State, South-South Nigeria.