Even though Chief Allen Onyema, Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, has denied allegations of bank fraud and money laundering levelled against him in the US, the United States Department of Justice’s Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Georgia, has published documents giving details of the charges.
In a statement on Thursday, US authorities said Onyema, alongside Ejiroghene Eghagha, the airline’s chief of administration and finance, was 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.
The businessman and philanthropist is said to have laundered the funds through Nigerian accounts to foreign accounts domiciled in the US and Canada using “false documents” based on the purchase of airplanes.
The funds were reportedly transferred from the Nigerian bank accounts of organisations founded by Onyema. They include Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.
Below are some highlights of the 36-page indictment document published by TheCable:
NINE BANK ACCOUNTS OPENED IN US, CANADA IN 8 YEARS
According to the indictment, Onyema initiated wire transfers to the tune of $44.9 million between 2010 and 2018 from Nigerian banks to about nine foreign accounts opened with Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Bank of Montreal in Canada.
The document listed the accounts to include BOA 8086, WE 3417, WF 8020, JPMC 5512, JPMC 2151, WF 8621, WF 0125, Montreal accounts 7523 and 7517 in Canada.
Onyema allegedly founded Springfield Aviation Company in Atlanta, Georgia in April 2016 “that purported to specialise in the wholesaling, trading, and sale of commercial aircraft and parts.”
“ONYEMA founded and used Springfield Aviation Company, LEC to facilitate large transfers of funds from his Nigerian bank accounts to the United States,” it read.
“Beginning on a date unknown, but at least as of in or about May 2016 and continuing through at least in or about February 2018, ONYEMA, EGHAGHA, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, applied for export letters of credit to cause the transfer of funds from a Nigerian bank account for Air Peace to Springfield Aviation bank accounts controlled by ONIEMA, purportedly to fund the purchase of aircraft by Aft Peace from Springfield Aviation.”
It, however, added that “the aircraft that was referenced in each of the export letters of credit was never owned or sold by Springfield Aviation”.
FAKE SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS TENDERED
The Air Peace CEO allegedly recruited one E.M to act as manager of Springfield aviation and to enter into contracts on its behalf.
The indictment document, however, said E.M. has no “has no connection to the aviation business outside of her role with Springfield Aviation and has no education, training, or licensing in the review and valuation of aircraft, including aircraft components”
According to US authorities, E.M was directed to present false documents to Wells Fargo Bank or JPMorgan Chase Bank NA to effect disbursement of funds to Springfield Aviation’s account.
“In support of the letters of credit and to cause the disbursement of funds from either Wells Fargo Bank or JPMorgan Chase Bank NA into Springfield Aviation’s account, ONYEMA, EGHAGHA, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, with intent to defraud, submitted false documents to Wells Fargo, including fabricated purchase agreements, bills of sale, and valuation documents,” the indictment read.
“EGHAGHA sent false documents to E.M. and directed E.M.to sign the documents on behalf of Springfield Aviation. EGHAGHA instructed E.M. to present false documents to the respective banks in support of each letter of credit.
“In support of the letter of credit and to cause the disbursement of funds from Wells Fargo into Springfield Aviation’s account, ONYEMA, EGHAGHA, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, presented false documents to Wells Fargo. Those documents included, among others:
Sales and Purchase Agreement dated June 1, 2016, between Springfield Aviation and Air Peace for the Boeing 737, signed by ONYEMA as Chairman/CEO of Air Peace and signed by E.M. as Manager of Springfield Aviation, on or about September 22, 2016;
Notarized Bill of Sale from Springfield Aviation to Air Peace, dated December 30, 2016;
Commercial Invoice from Springfield Aviation to Air Peace, dated December 30, 2016;
Valuation submitted on behalf of Springfield Aviation on December 30, 2016, which purported to be a “full aircraft appraisal” by “JMI LLC” that estimated the current market value of the Boeing Aircraft as $3,000,000; and
Delivery Certificate dated December 30, 2016, certifying that Springfield Aviation delivered Boeing 28721 to Air Peace in conformity with the terms of the letter of credit.”
WIFE AS JOINT OWNER OF ACCOUNTS
Onyema first opened a checking account ending at a Bank of America branch in Atlanta, Georgia (“BOA 8086”) in April 2010. He was initially the sole signatory to the account and “in or around August 2011, ONYEMA added his wife as a joint member to BOA 8086”.
“Between April 2010 and January 2016, ONYEMA transferred millions of dollars into his BOA 8086 account from Nigerian and other foreign bank accounts, including hundreds of thousands of dollars transferred directly from accounts for Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited,” the indcitment read.
According to the document, Bank of America closed BOA 8086 in January 2016 and issued a cashier’s check in the amount of $4,000,396.43 made payable to Onyema and his wife.
He subsequently opened a checking account ending in 3417 (“WE 3417”) and a savings account ending in 8020 (“WF 8020”) at a Wells Fargo Bank branch in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2016.
“On or about March 7, 2016, ONYEMA deposited the Bank of America cashier’s check into WE 8020. That same day, ONIEMA added his wife as a Secondary Joint Owner and authorized signatory to WE 8020 and WF 3417,” it read.
The document said Onyema used parts of the funds laundered to pay for personal expenses and purchase “luxury” cars.
“ONYEMA used the funds in his BOA 8086 account to pay for personal living expenses, among other purchases. For example, Onyema purchased an armoured Lexus LX570 ($204,000.00), using, in part, funds from BOA 8086.
“In March 2016, ONYEMA also used WF 8020 to purchase luxury cars, including a Rolls Royce for $180,000 and a Mercedes for $88,500, among others.
“ONYEMA used WF 8621 to pay for personal expenses, among other things. For example, the account was used to make purchases at Atlanta locations of Publix, Macy’s, DSW, the Ritz-Carlton, and various restaurants.”
According to the document, Onyema and Eghagha, if convicted of one or more of the offences alleged, would have to forfeit to the US “a sum of money in United States currency, representing the number of proceeds obtained as a result of the offences alleged in Indictment”.