The CEO of Nigerian Airline Air Peace has been indicted on
charges of bank fraud and money laundering by the U.S Department of Justice
He has been accused of moving more than $20 million (N7.2 billion) from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes
Air Peace international airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, was also charged “with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.”
Onyema recently became a national hero when he volunteered to use his plane to bring home Nigerian victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa free of charge.
His action earned widespread commendations including from the Nigerian government.
His airline less than a fortnight ago signed a contract with Embraer for the purchase of three E195-E2s aircraft worth USD 212.6 million and also expand the terms of purchase in the original contract signed with the aircraft manufacturer in April.
According to U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak, Mr Onyema “Allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud.”
He continued: “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.”
According to said Thomas J. Holloman, IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Office, “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.”
He continued: “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.”
According to Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama: “Onyema setup various innocent-sounding multi-million dollar asset purchases which were nothing more than alleged fronts for his scam. 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.”
In 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 purported to fund the purchase of five separate Boeing 737 passenger planes by Air Peace.
The DoJ said 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 Justice Department said 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 Onyema’s status as a wealthy businessman turned out to be a fraud,” Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division said.
“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.”
“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.”
Onyema also set up foundations meant to spread peace: Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, and All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited
Onyema founded Air Peace in 2013 and in the years since purchased multiple planes for the airline.