Allen Onyema who is the CEO of Air Peace Nigeria is being accused by the United States government of fraud and money laundering in the region of 20 millions of dollars.
L-R: Chairman of Air Peace Airline, Chief Allen Onyema, Speaker of the House Gbajabiamila and Hon Ndudi Elumelu [Twitter/@femigbaja]
The United States Department of Justice has charged Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, the Chairman and founder of Air Peace Nigerian airline, 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,” according to a statement from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.
Air Peace’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, has also been charged with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.
According to the statement issued by the United States Department of justice, “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 as saying; “We will diligently protect the integrity of our banking system from being corrupted by criminals, even when they disguise themselves in a cloak of international business.”
Robert J. Murphy, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division who commented on the indictment 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.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the indictment, and other information presented in court: “Onyema, a Nigerian citizen and businessman, is the founder and Chairman of several organizations that purport to promote peace across Nigeria, including the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, and All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited.
“Beginning 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.”
How he allegedly did it
Onyema founded Air Peace in 2013.
According to the statement, “in years following the founding of Air Peace, 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.
“Beginning in approximately May 2016, Onyema, together with Eghagha, allegedly used a series of export letters of credit to caus 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.
“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.”
Onyema and Eghagha were 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.
Additionally, Onyema was charged with 27 counts of money laundering, and Eghagha was charged with one count of aggravated identity theft.
In response to the allegation, Allen Onyema released the following statement.
“Thank you for reaching out to me. I can confirm to you that all allegations are false and are in no way in line with my character as a person and as a businessman whose only aim has been to build Nigeria and improve wellbeing.
“As the press statement clearly stated, these are indictment that only contains charges. I am innocent of all charges and the US government will find NO dirt on me because I have never conducted business with any illegalities.”
“Be rest assured that I also have my lawyers on this and these mere allegations will be refuted.”
“I never laundered money in my life, neither have I committed bank fraud anywhere in the world. Every Kobo I transferred to the US for aircraft purchase went through the Central Bank of Nigeria LC regime and all were used for the same purpose. The American companies that received the funds are still in business. I never took a penny from any US bank or Nigerian bank. I am willing to defend my innocence in the US courts.”
Nigeria’s Buhari not bothered by description with a military rank over rights violations
News Outfit to address President Buhari as Major General and administration as
One of Nigeria’s major national dailies, The Punch newspaper has in a scathing editorial on Wednesday said it will henceforth refer to President Muhammadu Buhari with his military rank of Major General, despite his earlier retirement from the military, over rising violations of human rights. But Buhari’s handlers in a statement said they were not bothered.
It comes on a day when the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari also sent out a statement castigating a presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu for interference in her family’s activities through an act of disobedience to the office of the First Lady. Both events are the hottest topics in most cafés and public areas across the country.
The editorial with the headline “Buhari’s lawlessness: our stand” and published on Wednesday denounced last week’s invasion of a court premises in the capital, Abuja by Nigeria’s secret police, the SSS to arrest a pro-democracy activist and news publisher, Omoyele Sowore who had been granted bail after previously being held in illegal detention since August 22.
“As a symbolic demonstration of our protest against autocracy and military-style repression, PUNCH…will henceforth prefix Buhari’s name with his rank as a military dictator in the 80s, Major General, and refer to his administration as a regime, until they purge themselves of their insufferable contempt for the rule of law.”
The national daily said the “entire country and a global audience are rightly scandalised by the unfolding saga over Omoyele Sowore and the unruliness of the SSS and the government; but it is only a pattern, a reflection of the serial disregard of the Buhari regime for human rights and its battering of other arms of government and our democratic institutions.”
Buhari’s government reacts
The presidency was swift in its response with Spokesman, Femi Adesina in a statement saying that there was nothing wrong with the decision even though some of the accusations were unfair to President Buhari.
“A newspaper says it will henceforth address President Muhammadu Buhari by his military rank of Major General. Nothing untoward in it. It is a rank the President attained by dint of hard work before he retired from the Nigerian Army. And today, constitutionally, he’s also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.” Adesina stated
Adesina went on to state that rather than being pejorative, addressing President Buhari by his military rank is another testimony to free speech and freedom of the press, which this administration (or regime, if anyone prefers: it’s a matter of semantics) has pledged to uphold and preserve.”
Despite the response, the daily said it will” not adopt the self-defeating attitude of many Nigerians looking the other way after each violation of rights and attacks on the citizens, the courts, the press and civil society, including self-determination groups lawfully exercising their inalienable rights to peaceful dissent.”
President Buhari had previously ruled Nigeria as a military leader between 1984 – 1985 after he took over from the coup that ousted the democratically elected government of late President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic.
Then Major General Buhari ran a tight-fisted military junta in his bid to jail corrupt politicians with many of the accused persons jailed by military tribunals for over 100 years, in some circumstances. Many activists and journalists were not left out in the crackdown on dissent during that period.
Ironically, it was the same anti-corruption posture that got Buhari democratically elected in 2015 after his All Progressives Congress (APC) coalition defeated then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) due to agitations for the purging of corrupt politicians in the country.
The State Security Service (SSS) under President Buhari has recently been accused of high-handedness and serial abuse of court orders and Gestapo-style raid on residences of judges, parliamentarians and opposition leaders.
Leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim el-Zakzakky and his wife have spent over three years in detention in violation of court orders granting them bail and ordering their release. A former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, has also been held in detention since 2015 in defiance of several court orders, including one by the ECOWAS appellate court that declared his continued incarceration illegal.
“Under Buhari, the SSS has become a monstrous and repressive secret police, acting often with impunity. Buhari bears responsibility for the state of repression because, as president, he can stop it today,” the Punch wrote.
The newspaper denounced Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, stating that he had suddenly forgotten “how, as opposition spokesman in 2014, he was harassed by the SSS and accused of “loitering.”(He has) been vigorously pressing for anti-hate speech laws to restrict social media. Abdullahi Sabi, a senator, along with others, has re-presented a hate-speech bill: their sole purpose is to insulate officials from criticism and compel unquestioned acceptance of Buhari’s draconian misrule.”
The national daily said it believes that “Buhari can still redeem himself and his out-of-control security agents and reclaim his past facade of tolerance.”
Nigerians divided over editorial
The editorial has since become a major subject of discussion among Nigerians with many people divided on the matter, including those in government.
Speaker of the regional Oyo State House of Assembly governed by the national opposition PDP, Honourable Adebo Ogundoyin in his reaction said:
“Today’s @MobilePunch editorial, its resolution to henceforth prefix @MBuhari with Major General & refer to his administration as a regime in protest against autocracy is another huge feat renewing our hope in the media as a strong voice ready to hold govt. accountable & responsible.”
Dr Thompson Udenwa called for caution by the newspaper. “Call him whatever you want, but no Nigerian leader in our most recent democracy has exemplified true respect for democracy and its institutions like President (Major General) Buhari has. #Thread”
Journalist Fisayo Soyombo said “Many of you are happy with @MobilePunch this minute, but what will you do if/when the lawless agents of this govt come after the paper and its editors? Will you look the other way, because you’re not in PUNCH’s employ, or will you be ‘alive’ enough to offer solidarity?”
One commentator even asked for the resignation of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of law. Boye Steve wrote “This is a great and brave piece of editorial. We all need to stand up against this tyranny. I call on the VP, as a constitutional law professor, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to resign from this despotic regime now.”
Al Shabaab members attack hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital; kills 5
Some gunmen suspected to be members of the militant group, Al Shabaab attacked a hotel in Somalia’s capital near the presidential residence on Tuesday, killing 5 people.
Police said they killed two of the gunmen and rescued dozens of people from inside.
The Deputy Security Commissioner-General Zakia Hussein disclosed that two of the gunmen met their death as they launched the attack outside the hotel, while two others stormed inside. Hussein added that security forces rescued 82 people which included several officials.
In a Twitter post by the Deputy Commissioner, she warned people not to call their relatives who may be in the hotel while the operation was ongoing. See the tweet below:
This is not the first time the militant group would launch an attack in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. In fact, the group had regularly attacked the city in a to topple the government. The group had also attacked the hotel in 2016.
A witness told News Central TV that security forces at the hotel had mistaken the gunmen for police as they approached until they started shooting and throwing bombs.
Another witness narrated how he heard gunfire inside the hotel late into the night on Tuesday.
“I saw security personnel evacuating people through the back wall using ladders. People where scampering for safety” he continued.
The militant group once controlled most parts of the capital but lost its strongholds when they were forced out of the city in 2011.
Two Algerian ex-Prime Ministers get heavy jail terms for corruption
An Algerian court has on Tuesday sentenced two former prime ministers to a long jail term in the first of a series of high-profile corruption trials launched after longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests in April.
The court ruling came just two days to Algeria’s presidential election to replace ousted Bouteflika
Former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, who were both close to the ousted president, were sentenced to 15 years and 12 years respectively.
It was the first time since Algeria’s independence in 1962 that former prime ministers were put on trial.
The state prosecutor had sought 20-year prison sentences for the two ex-premiers.
In all, 19 defendants were tried on charges ranging from money laundering to abuse of office and granting undue privileges in the nascent vehicle assembly industry.
-‘Nepotism and favouritism’
The Algerian automotive sector got its start in 2014, via partnerships between foreign groups and large Algerian corporations, many of which are owned by businessmen linked to Bouteflika’s entourage.
One former industry minister, Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is on the run abroad, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years. Two other former industry ministers, Mahdjoub Bedda and Youcef Yousfi, were handed 10-year terms.
Businessman Ali Haddad, founder and CEO of private construction firm ETRHB and former head of Algeria’s main employers’ organisation, was sentenced to seven years.
And three businessmen who own vehicle assembly plants — Ahmed Mazouz, Hassen Arbaoui and Mohamed Bairi — were sentenced to seven years, six years and three years respectively.
The prosecutor denounced a sector dominated by nepotism and favouritism, describing businessmen who “managed front companies while benefiting from undue tax, customs and land benefits”.
The automotive scandal cost the treasury more than 128 billion dinars (975 million euros), according to the official APS news agency.
Defence lawyers boycotted the trial, alleging the proceedings were “politicised” and impacted by a climate of “settling scores”.
The defendants protested their innocence and spent the trial shifting blame among themselves.
Before the court retired to deliberate, former prime minister Sellal broke down in tears and begged for leniency, saying, “I don’t have much time left to live.”
In closing remarks Sunday, the prosecutor said the trial sent the message that Algeria had changed this year and that “we are here to apply the will of the people”.
– ‘Children of the system’
But the high-profile prosecutions have done little to win over the protesters, who have continued to take to the streets since Bouteflika’s resignation, demanding the total dismantling of the military-dominated system that has ruled Algeria since independence.
Many fear the trials are little more than a high-level purge in a struggle between still-powerful regime insiders, rather than a genuine effort to reform the state.
The military high command, which has long wielded power from behind the scenes, has now been forced to take a visible, frontline role in government — but has rejected the demands of protesters and civil society for sweeping reforms.
It has paid little attention to popular calls to replace the constitution that served to legitimise Bouteflika’s grip on power.
Instead, the army has pushed for a swift election to pick a replacement for Bouteflika, saying it is the only route to resolving the political crisis.
While no opinion polls have been published, observers expect high levels of abstention, in keeping with previous elections in a political system seen by voters as rigid and unaccountable.
The five candidates in the poll have run low-key campaigns.
All are considered “children of the system”, having either supported Bouteflika or participated in his government — two as ministers and two as prime ministers.
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