MIAMI – The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged Allen Onyema, the Chairman and Founder of Nigerian carrier, Air Peace, with bank fraud and money laundering.
According to the DOJ, Onyema has moved of more than $20 million from various foreign accounts through American bank accounts to pay for living expenses, luxury cars, and other high-priced goods.
Onyema, 56, had moved the money using different organizations that were founded in Nigeria. U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak has said that “Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud.”
“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,” added Pak.
On the back of this statement, it was shown that Onyema had used false documentation related to the purchase of aircraft for his airline, Air Peace.
Onyema has denied all of these allegations, stating that he is innocent of all charges. “The US Government will find no dirt on me because I have never conducted business with any illegalities,” he claims.
“Be rest assured that I also have my lawyers on this and these mere allegations will be refuted,” Onyema says.
However, Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division, noted that “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.”
As noted by the DOJ, Onyema began traveling to Atlanta numerous times in 2010. Since then, he opened several personal and business bank accounts, with which he moved more than $44.9 million from foreign sources.
Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in Georgia and Alabama, added that Onyema’s setup included “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,” Hammer said.
Boeing 737 MAX Order Under Scrutiny?
Last year, Air Peace placed an order for 10 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, valued at $1.17 billion. It is led to believe that this order will be placed under review as the fraud charges are conducted.
According to the DOJ, “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,” organizations founded by Onyema himself.
The DOJ narrates that, beginning in approximately May 2016, Onyema “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.”
These letters, according to the DOJ, were supported by documents such as purchase agreements, bills of sale, and appraisals, all proving that Air Peace was, indeed, purchasing the aircraft from Springfield Aviation Company LLC, a business registered in Georgia.
However, the DOJ explains that all of 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,” it explains.
The Nigerian Chairman currently faces charges for 27 counts of money laundering, three counts of bank fraud, three counts of credit fraud, and two conspiracy charges from the US and with this a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
In addition to the 737 MAX order, Air Peace signed a firm order with Embraer for 10 E195-E2 aircraft in April, making the carrier the first to operate the E2 in Africa. The deal, valued at $2.12 billion, also includes options for another 20 units of the aircraft type.
Moreover, the airline exercised its rights for additional planes at the Dubai Air Show, confirming firm orders for three E195-E2s valued at $212 million at current list prices.
It is unclear whether these orders will also be placed under scrutiny. However, the fact that the airline’s founder and chairman is under investigation, it is likely that Embraer will also re-consider this transaction.