The United States’ Attorney’s Office has charged the Founder and Chairman, Air Peace Nigeria, Allen Onyema, with bank fraud and money laundering for moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.
Chief of Administration and Finance of the airline, Ejiroghene Eghagha, was also charged with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.
Details: The Air Peace boss 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, said, “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 development, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division, Robert J. Murphy, said, “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.”
Thomas J. Holloman, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Office, explained that the 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 the nation’s financial system.
He said, “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.”
The acting Special Agent in Charge, Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in Georgia and Alabama, alledged that the Air Peace boss set up various innocent-sounding multi-million dollar asset purchases which were nothing more than alleged fronts for his scam.
“I am 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.”
How it started, according to the US
U.S. Attorney Pak stated that in 2010, Onyema began travelling frequently to Atlanta, where he opened several personal and business bank accounts. Between 2010 and 2018, over $44.9 million was allegedly transferred into his Atlanta-based accounts from foreign sources.
After he founded Air Peace in 2013, he travelled to the United States and purchased multiple airplanes for the airline. However, 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, which are his firms.
Around 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 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.
Pak said, “However, 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.”
However, efforts made by our analyst to get Air Peace to respond to the allegations were to no avail. Mail and messages sent were not addressed or responded to.
But it is important to note that the indictment only contains charges as 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.
Currently, several agencies like Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Commerce, and Department of Treasury are investigating this case.
On the other hand, the United States Consul General John Bray, had lauded the efforts of the airline on investing greatly in the future of the aviation industry during the signing ceremony for the sale of 10 new Boeing 737 Max aircraft to Air Peace, September 2018.
Bray said, “The U.S. government is committed to expanding economic engagement, trade and investment ties with Nigeria. This signing ceremony highlights another deal which will strengthen the bond between the United States and Nigeria”.
[READ FURTHER: Air Peace gets rights to commence daily flights to South Africa]
According to Boeing Sales Director Tolliver, the 737 MAX is the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing’s history, accumulating more than 4,700 orders from 102 customers worldwide.
He listed fuel efficiency and superior operating economics as some of the factors creating a strong demand for the 737 Max aircraft.
Nigerian LNG to increase exports, returns profits despite weak gas prices
The gas firm has been able to sell the excess supply at a discount in the spot market.
Nigeria will most likely increase the export of its Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) in August and September to the global market if the demand of the commodity goes up despite the crash in prices which is near record lows.
However, in the meantime, the government-owned Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) company has concluded plans to maintain its current supply level to the global market. This is contrary to what some other exporters like the United States and Australia seem to be doing following low prices.
According to a report from Bloomberg, Nigeria exported over 1.8 million tons in the month of June, which is more than last year’s monthly average of 1.7 million tons.
Some of the country’s buyers have effected clauses in their long-term which allows them to take fewer shipments than was originally agreed. The gas firm has been able to sell the excess supply at a discount in the spot market. Over 50% of Nigeria’s exports in May were sold in Asia as against the about 30% that was sold last year.
Natural gas exports have slowed in June as the coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected global demand. Most of the multibillion-dollar projects in natural gas export terminals have been either halted or delayed as a result of the disruptions by the pandemic.
The damage to the gas trade goes well beyond the Middle East as it is affecting similar businesses in Australia, which is reputed to be the world’s largest exporter of LNG and the United States. With the global exports down by 6.3% from the previous year, only a few exporting countries like Qatar and Algeria, have been able to increase output.
The positive for Nigeria is that the production cost at its LNG facility in Bonny island is so low that it can still turn a profit despite the weak spot prices. The facility has been about the lowest costs when compared to similar projects around the world.
Nairametrics had reported that the NLNG just signed the engineering, procurement and construction contract for its train 7 project, which is a major gas expansion plan. The project is expected to boost the country’s LNG output by more than 30%.
The NLNG is a consortium between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Royal Dutch Shell, Total and Eni. The project is coming at a difficult time when LNG prices in Asia and gas prices in Europe have hit a record low due to the coronavirus pandemic which has weakened demand.
Just In: Opay shuts down other business arms to focus mainly on fintech
The company will now focus on its fintech business which has always been its core.
Opay announced this afternoon that it would be shutting down some of its business units (for now) to focus only on financial technology services.
A press statement by the company, as seen by Nairametrics, primarily blamed the development on the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a recent regulation by the Lagos State Government which banned commercial motorcycles across much of the Lagos metropolitan area.
The business units that have been put on hold by the company include all its ride-hailing platforms (ORide and OCar), as well as OExpress, its delivery business.
Opay also noted that ride-hailing companies around the world have particularly been hit hard by the pandemic which caused rippling economic effects across the world. The company said it foresaw the negative impacts of the pandemic and had already begun restructuring long before now. According to the statement by the company, this final restructuring is expected to have a very minimal impact on its business as a whole. Part of the statement said:
“We can confirm that some of our business units including the ride-hailing services ORide, OCar as well as our logistics service OExpress will be put on pause. This is largely due to the harsh business conditions which have affected many Nigerian companies, including ours, during this COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown, and government ban.
“Globally, ride-sharing businesses have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. But several months ago, foreseeing this issue, OPay had already taken pre-emptive steps to restructure our business focus away from rides. It is worthy to note that this final restructuring has minimal impact on OPay as a whole business.”
A Statement From OPay. pic.twitter.com/mjvsKle6yH
— OPay (@OPay_NG) July 2, 2020
In the meantime, Opay will focus on its fintech service, providing payment solutions to Nigerian merchants within the eCommerce space. Interestingly, while the Chinese-owned company is known by most Nigerians because of its ride-hailing services, the core of its business has always been fintech. As a matter of fact, all these other ventures that were just put on hold were established with the intention of consolidating the payments business.
Download the Nairametrics News App
“It is important to clarify that ride-sharing had always been only one part, and not a major part of Opay’s diversified business in Nigeria, I fact, Opay had been investing more and seeing accelerated growth in its commitment to Nigeria’s financial and technology inclusion,” the company explained.
As a full-fledged fintech firm and already a major player in the space, Opay will now continue to compete with the likes of Paga, Paystack, and even Flutterwave.
Nigerians willing to travel abroad will wait a bit longer – Aviation Ministry
Domestic flights between Lagos and Abuja will resume on Wednesday July 8.
The Federal Ministry of Aviation announced on Wednesday evening that flights will commence with the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, and Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos on the 8th of July. The Ministry also announced date will be decided for international travel.
Port Harcourt, Owerri, and Maiduguri airport will reopen on the 11th of July, while the other airports in the country are set to restart operations on the 15th of July.’
‘‘Passengers looking to travel out of the country will have to wait a bit longer as the dates for the restart of international flights into and out of the country will be announced later,’’ The Ministry said.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika thanked the Nigerian public and stakeholders in the aviation industry “who have had to cope with the adverse effects of the flight suspension” for their cooperation in ensuring the country resumes operations in the airports.
READ MORE: FG acquires profiling robots for airport
Nigeria banned International flights into the country on March 21, after the country’s coronavirus cases doubled from 12-22. The airport closure was meant to last one month but as cases grew globally, the date of resumption got postponed. Domestic flights between Lagos and Abuja will resume on Wednesday, July 8.
Minister of Aviation Sen. @hadisirika who announced on Wednesday, also disclosed that the flights will commence with the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja and the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos.
— Federal Ministry of Aviation, Nigeria (@fmaviationng) July 1, 2020
I am glad to announce that Abuja & Lagos airports will resume domestic operations on the 8th of July, 2020. Kano, Port Harcourt, Owerri & Maiduguri to resume on the 11th. Other airports on the 15th. Date for international to be announced in due course. Bear with us, please 🇳🇬🙏🏽🇳🇬
— Hadi Sirika (@hadisirika) July 1, 2020
Domestic flight operations are resuming in Nigeria, as follows:
Abuja & Lagos Airports will reopen on July 8, 2020
Kano, Port Harcourt, Owerri & Maiduguri: July 11, 2020
Other Airports: July 15, 2020
Please note this applies only to Domestic flights.
— Government of Nigeria (@NigeriaGov) July 1, 2020