Fraud allegation: US may seize Onyema’s $14m, issues arrest warrant

Mr. Allen Onyema

Chairman of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, may lose about $14m in his United States bank accounts if his appeal against the charges fails.

US agencies have indicted Onyema and the Head of Finance and Administration of Air Peace, Ejiroghene Eghagha, over multiple charges of money laundering and bank fraud over $20m.

According to the provisions of the charges, Onyema may forfeit up to $14m in his US bank accounts if convicted of the alleged fraud and money laundering.

The court documents showed that already, $4,017,852.51 had been seized from JP Morgan Chase Bank held in the name of Springfield Aviation Company, LLC, Premium Times reported on Saturday.

The other funds that may be forfeited are $4,593,842.05 held in Bank of Montreal in the name of Springfield Aviation and $5,634,842.04 also held in Bank of Montreal in the name of Bluestream Aero Services.

Meanwhile, following his indictment, the US government has issued a warrant for Onyema to be taken into custody.

The warrant was signed by an American magistrate of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Georgia, Justin Anand, on November 19,  authorising US Marshals Service to take Onyema into custody.

As of Saturday evening, it was unclear whether the US would seek Onyema’s extradition.

The United States Department of Justice, had on Friday charged Onyema with bank fraud and money laundering for moving more than $20m from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.

In a statement, the government said the airline’s Eghagha, had 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,” US Attorney Byung Pak, was quoted to have 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.

Between 2010 and 2018, over $44.9m was allegedly transferred into his Atlanta-based accounts from foreign sources.

“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 in part.

It stated that, however, the supporting documents were fake as 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.

Onyema’s solicitors, Aleghe & Co, said he would seek redress in court.

The firm in a statement on Saturday, said the allegations were unfounded.

According to the firm, both Onyema and Eghagha, look forward to an opportunity to defend themselves in court.

The statement read in part, “On behalf of Allen Onyema, we hereby state that he strongly denies and will vigorously defend himself against the allegations made against him by the US Attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, in relation to purchase of aircraft, aircraft spares and aircraft maintenance.

“None of the allegations involved any third party funds but related to his funds utilised in the airline business. There is no allegation that any bank, in the United States, Nigeria or elsewhere; company or individual suffered any financial or any loss whatsoever. The allegations are strange to him.”

Onyema also denied the allegations, describing them as false.

Meanwhile, the Arewa Consultative Youth Forum, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council, Yoruba Council of Youths and the Ijaw Youth Council have urged the Federal Government to urgently intervene and approach the matter diplomatically.

In a statement jointly issued under the aegis of Nigerian Ethnic Nationality Youth Leaders Forum, the coalition said much as Nigerians would not object to any legal action in any court in the world, it would be wrong to allow Onyema to be brought down without clear evidence of joint investigations between the US law enforcement agencies and their Nigerian counterpart to determine the claims.

In the statement jointly signed by its chairman and deputy, Alhaji Yerima Shetimma and Okechukwu Isiguzoro respectively, among others, the NENYLF said it suspects a high-level conspiracy in the matter.

The statement read, “Much as Nigerians will not object a legal action by any court in the world, we will never, ever fold our arms akimbo and watch helplessly and hopelessly as one of our finest is being coerced and pulled down in broad daylight, without an iota of any subsisting clear evidence from a joint investigation between the US law enforcement agencies and Nigeria counterparts to determine the veracity of the claims before unleashing this dreadful move, deliberately aimed at tainting the image of Onyema.

“We would like to draw the attention of his Nigeria business rivals in the aviation sector, that we suspect high-level complicity and conspiracy theory by some of his sworn enemies working hand-in-hand with their American partners to destroy Onyema Air Peace Airline and other investments.

“Consequently we shall explore all available legitimate legal means in defending one of the most exemplary Nigerian and ambassador of peace and uncommon investor; hence Mr Onyema deserves our unflinching supports.

“We call on fellow Nigerians, leaders of thoughts and civil society organisations in the country to rise to this new judicial brigandage designed to destroy our own in a foreign land.”

 PUNCH

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