The Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema has been indicted by the United States Department of Justice for bank fraud and money laundering.
Onyema was accused of moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.
The US Department of Justice announced this in a press release issued on Friday, November 22, 2019.
Onyema was charged alongside his airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha.
“Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak was quoted in the statement.
“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.”
Commenting on the allegation, Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division says, “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.”
Also commenting on the indictment, an investigation agent in charge of the Atlanta Field Office, Thomas J. Holloman says, “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.
“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.”
Another investigation agent, Robert Hammer was quoted to have accused Onyema of setting up various innocent sounding multi-million dollar asset purchases which were nothing more than alleged fronts for his scam.
On Tuesday, November 19, 2019, the Department charged the 56-yr-old businessman 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.
He was also charged with 27 counts of money laundering, and Eghagha was charged with one count of aggravated identity theft.
How Onyema allegedly started defrauding US banks
The US Department of Justice traced the fraud allegations against the founder of Air Peace airline to 2010 when he started travelling frequently to Atlanta, where he opened several personal and business bank accounts.
The US authorities say that between 2010 and 2018, over $44.9 million was allegedly transferred into his Atlanta-based accounts from foreign sources. Three years after, Onyema founded Air Peace airline in 2013.
The 56-yr-old businessman allegedly traveled to the United States and purchased multiple airplanes for the airline after founding his airline business.
It is believed that 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.
In May 2016, Onyema and his airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene 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 the businessman.
The US department of Justice says, “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”.
According to the US authorities, the supporting documents were fake. It was alleged that 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.
The statement by the Department says that “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”.
However, the US government in its statement said that Onyema and Eghagha 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.