A United States District Court on Wednesday, Nov. 20, issued a warrant of arrest for Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema Chairman, CEO, and founder of Air Peace, for alleged bank fraud and money laundering. The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, reported that Onyema laundered over $20 million from Nigeria through US banks in a scheme involving fake documents based on the purchase of airplanes. The international airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance- Ejiroghene Eghagha, was also charged with aggravated identity theft.
Nigeria and the US have extradition agreement but US Department of Justice (DOJ) officials could not confirm to Huhuonline.com whether the US has requested for Onyema and Eghagha to be extradited. Lawyers to both Air Peace chiefs said in a statement on Saturday morning that Onyema and Eghagha were willing to prove their innocence in court. Earlier, in a statement Friday, the US Attorney General’s office said in a statement Friday, that the 36-page indictment filed on November 19, 2019, showed US authorities have on the trail of Onyema’s financial transactions since 2010; leading to his indictment for money laundering and fraud. Both Onyema and Eghagha were indicted 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. In addition, Onyema was charged with 27 counts of money laundering, and Eghagha was charged with one count of aggravated identity theft.
The investigation involving 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, showed that the US kept close tabs on Onyema’s financial transactions, including his business and personal expenditures, from as far back as 2010. The charges were brought as a part of the DOJ’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), “which enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations against a continuum of priority targets and their affiliate illicit financial networks.”
Detailing his financial transactions from around 2010, the indictment revealed that Onyema began frequently travelling back and forth between Nigeria and Atlanta to conduct various financial transactions from 2010 through 2017. It read: “On or about April 2, 2010, Onyema opened a checking account ending in 8086 in the name of Allen I. Onyema at a Bank of America branch in Atlanta, Georgia (“BOA 8086”). Onyema was the sole authorized signatory on the account. In or around August 2011, Onyema added his wife as a joint member to BOA 8086.
“Between April 2010 and January 2016, Onyema transferred millions of dollars into his BOA 8086 account from Nigerian and other foreign bank accounts, including hundreds of thousands of dollars transferred directly from accounts for Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non- Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Ltd, and Every Child Ltd. “Onyema used the funds in his BOA 8086 account to pay for personal living expenses, among other purchases. For example, Onyema purchased an armored Lexus LX570 ($204,000.00), using, in part, funds from BOA 8086.”
Count one of the indictment which deals with conspiracy to commit bank fraud alleged that starting from a date unknown, but around May 2016 and continuing through at least February 2018, Onyema and Eghagha, and others “knowingly and willfully combine, conspire, confederate, agree, and have a tacit understanding with each other and with others to commit bank fraud, an offense against the United States, that is to knowingly devise and execute and attempt to execute a scheme and artifice (i) to defraud financial institutions the deposits of which were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, that is, Wells Fargo Bank and JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, and (ii) to obtain and attempt to obtain moneys, funds, and assets owned by and under the custody and control of those financial institutions by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, as well as by omission of material facts, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1344.”
The indictment also noted that Onyema founded Air Peace in 2013 and serves as chairman and CEO. It alleged that between 2013 and 2014, Onyema used multiple foreign bank accounts, including several Nigerian accounts, to purchase airplanes for the Air Peace fleet. According to the indictment, these planes included Boeing 737 aircraft bearing serial numbers 25234, 25235, and 27530, and Dornier 328 aircraft bearing serial numbers 3221 and 3171.
It also noted that funds to purchase these aircraft came from accounts for All-time Peace Media Communications, Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, Every Child Limited, and International Center for Non-Violence, adding that the total amount of funds from these accounts used to purchase aircraft for Air Peace exceeded $3,000,000.
“Between 2013 and 2016, accounts associated with Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All- Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited in Nigeria transferred more than $3.8 million into bank accounts in the United States to a combination of escrow, logistical, and personal accounts. The funds were used to acquire, export, and service aircraft, as well as to purchase personal property,” it added.
The indictment also showed that Onyema founded and allegedly used Springfield Aviation Company, LEC to facilitate large transfers of funds from his Nigerian bank accounts to the United States. “On or about April 4, 2016, a business attorney, at the direction of Onyema, established Springfield Aviation Company, LLC (“Springfield Aviation”) as a Limited Liability Company registered in Atlanta, Georgia that purported to specialize in the wholesaling, trading, and sale of commercial aircraft and parts. Onyema is the owner of Springfield Aviation. “Onyema recruited EM to act as a manager of Springfield Aviation and to enter into contracts on its behalf. EM has no connection to the aviation business outside of her role with Springfield Aviation and has no education, training, or licensing in the review and valuation of aircraft, including aircraft components.”
“On or about July 18, 2016, Onyema opened a business checking account ending in 8621 in the name of Springfield Aviation Company, LLC at a Wells Fargo branch in Atlanta, Georgia (“WF 8621”). Onyema was the sole authorized signer on WF 8621. In or about March 2017, Onyema opened a savings account ending in 0125 in the name of Springfield Aviation Company LLC at a Wells Fargo branch in Atlanta, Georgia (“WF 0125”). Onyema used WF 8621 to pay for personal expenses, among other things. For example, the account was used to make purchases at Atlanta locations of Publix, Macy’s, DSW, the Ritz-Carlton, and various restaurants.
“On August 22, 2018, Onyema established Bluestream Aero Services and Springfield Aviation Company in Ontario, Canada. Onyema also opened business bank accounts ending in 7523 held in the name of Springfield Aviation Company and 7515 held in the name of Bluestream Aero Services at Bank of Montreal (Canada). In November 2018, Onyema transferred around $10 million from WF 8020 to the Bank of Montreal accounts,” it alleged.
Alleging a scheme to defraud, the indictment noted that about May 2016 and continuing through May 2017, Onyema, on behalf of Air Peace, purchased several aircraft. It added that around May 2016 and February 2018, Onyema, Eghagha and others applied for export letters of credit to cause the transfer of funds from a Nigerian bank account for Air Peace to Springfield Aviation bank accounts controlled by Onyema, purportedly to fund the purchase of aircraft by Air Peace from Springfield Aviation.
It however noted that the aircraft that was referenced in each of the export letters of credit was never owned or sold by Springfield Aviation. “In support of the letters of credit and to cause the disbursement of funds from either Wells Fargo Bank or JPMorgan Chase Bank NA into Springfield Aviation’s account, Onyema, Eghagha, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, with intent to defraud, submitted false documents to Wells Fargo, including fabricated purchase agreements, bills of sale, and valuation documents. “Eghagha sent false documents to EM and directed EM to sign the documents on behalf of Springfield Aviation. Eghagha instructed E.M. to present false documents to the respective banks in support of each letter of credit.”
In or around May 2016, Onyema, as the owner, Chairman, and CEO of Air Peace, negotiated and purchased the Boeing 737-500 aircraft bearing manufacturer’s serial number (“MSN”) 28721 (“Boeing 28721”) from Commercial Jet Solutions, LLC. That sale was consummated by an Aircraft Purchase Agreement dated May 16, 2016, and a Bill of Sale dated July 13, 2016 for a total $2,078,000. It read: “The purchase was completed using three wire transfers from WF 8020 totaling $2,078,000: $500,000 on or about May 16, 2016; $73,000 on or about May 23, 2016; and $1,505,000 on or about July 14, 2016.
“In or about November 2016, Wells Fargo Bank received an export letter of credit request from Fidelity Bank in Nigeria on behalf of applicant Air Peace Ltd. The letter of credit requested that Wells Fargo accept as a transfer $1,682,184 for the benefit of Springfield Aviation. The purpose of the letter of credit was purportedly to fund Air Peace’s purchase of Boeing 28721 from Springfield Aviation, an aircraft already owned by Air Peace that was never owned by Springfield Aviation. The letter of credit was identified as FB16ILL00063. The directions for the letter of credit state that “Documents must strictly conform with the terms and conditions of the attached letter of credit” and that “Documents Dated Prior To L/C Opening Date Not Acceptable.”
“ In support of the letter of credit and to cause the disbursement of funds from Wells Fargo into Springfield Aviation’s account, Onyema, Eghagha, and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, presented false documents to Wells Fargo. Those documents included, among others: “Sales and Purchase Agreement dated June 1, 2016, between Springfield Aviation and Air Peace for the Boeing 737, signed by ONYEMA as Chairman/CEO of Air Peace and signed by E.M. as Manager of Springfield Aviation, on or about September 22, 2016; “Notarized Bill of Sale from Springfield Aviation to Air Peace, dated December 30, 2016; “Commercial Invoice from Springfield Aviation to Air Peace, dated December 30, 2016; “Valuation submitted on behalf of Springfield Aviation on December 30, 2016, which purported to be a “full aircraft appraisal” by “JMI LLC” that estimated the current market value of the Boeing Aircraft as $3,000,000; and “Delivery Certificate dated December 30, 2016, certifying that Springfield Aviation delivered Boeing 28721 to Air Peace in conformity with the terms of the letter of credit.
“JMI LLC was not a valid business that conducted airplane valuations at any time relevant to this Indictment. “On or about January 9, 2017, the letter of credit was amended to increase the amount of the anticipated transfer to $2,000,000. “On or about February 10, 2017, Wells Fargo transferred $1,982,228.46 into Springfield Aviation’s Wells Fargo account, WF 8621.”
The US authorities said they have also impounded funds in, at least, three bank accounts traced to both Air Peace chiefs. These included: “$4,017,852.51 seized from JP Morgan Chase Bank account number XXXXXXXXXXX5512 held in the name of Springfield Aviation Company, LLC; $4,593,842.05 in Bank of Montreal Canada account number XXXXXXX7523 held in the name of Springfield Aviation Inc. and $5,634,842.04 in Bank of Montreal Canada account number XXXXXXX7515 held in the name of Bluestream Aero Services, Inc.” The funds will be forfeited to the United States “upon conviction of one or more of the offenses alleged” counts one to thirty-six.
The indictment also states that the US will go after the personal assets of the defendants if any forfeitable property, as a result of any act or omission of the defendants: a) cannot be located upon the exercise of due diligence; b) has been transferred or sold to, or deposited with, a third party; c) has been placed beyond the jurisdiction of the court; d) has been substantially diminished in value; or e) has been commingled with other property which cannot be divided without difficulty; it is the intent of the United States, pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 853(p), as incorporated by Title 18, United States Code, Section 982(b) and Title 28, United States Code, Section 2461(c), to seek forfeiture of any other property of said defendants up to the value of forfeitable property described above.