- Allen Onyema, Air Peace CEO, Indicted for Fraud, Money Laundering in US
The United States Department of Justice on Friday indicted Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, the Chairman and founder of Air Peace, for bank fraud and money laundering involving the transfer of more than $20 million from Nigeria through the United States bank accounts with false documents.
The Department of Justice also charged Ejiroghene Eghagha, the Chief of Administration and Finance, Air Peace, with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.
According to DOJ, Onyema, who founded several organisations like Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, and All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited meant to promote peace across Nigeria, started travelling frequently to Atlanta, USA in 2010. However, between 2010 and 2018, Onyema had opened several personal and business bank accounts with over $44.9 million moved into his Atlanta-based accounts from foreign sources.
In 2013, Onyema founded Air Peace and acquired multiple airplanes from the United States. The DOJ, however, said $3 million of the funds used in the acquisition of the airplanes came from bank accounts opened for Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.
The U.S. Department of Justice said by May 2016, the Air Peace founder with Eghagha used several ‘export letters of credit’ to cause banks to transfer more than $20 million into Onyema’s Atlanta-based bank accounts to fund the purchase of five Boeing 737 passenger planes.
These letters of credit were backed by purchase agreements, bills of sale, and appraisals proving that Air Peace was acquiring the aircraft from a business registered in Georgia, Springfield Aviation Company LLC.
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,” the DOJ stated.
“Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “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 indictment, Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division, 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.”
“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,” said Thomas J. Holloman, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Office. “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.”
“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. “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.”
Onyema was recently celebrated in Nigeria after evacuating over 600 Nigerians from South Africa during Xenophobic attacks on African immigrants.