The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will be investigating the $44.9 million wire fraud and money laundering case against Air Peace Chief Executive Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema hours after his indictment in the United States (US).
The antigraft agency has therefore raised a ”special panel” to investigate the matter shortly after receiving the charges against Onyema.
Recall that Onyema was indicted along with his finance officer, Ejiroghene Eghagha, by the US Department of Justice (DoJ). According to the charges against them by the US authority, they were involved in “moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through some United States banks in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.”
Eghagh was also accused of bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.
The two Nigerian banks involved in facilitating the transfer of the money to the US and processing letters of credit to buy planes for Air Peace will also be investigated.
The Nation reports that the probe would cover the activities and inflows into the accounts of four non-governmental organisations (NGOs) /non-profit groups sponsored by Onyema.
The NGOs include Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Centre for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.
Onyema had already denied the allegations said he is ready to travel to the US to defend himself.
The US government is seeking to forfeit of $14,246,536.6million left in some accounts linked with Onyema in the US and Canada.
The funds comprise $4,017,852.51 in JP Morgan Chase Bank in the US and $4,593,842.05 and $5,634,842.04 in the Bank of Montreal, Canada.
“Upon the receipt of the charges, the EFCC chairman raised a team to probe the allegations against Onyema Eghagha, who were prominently mentioned in the indictment charges by the United States Government.
“The EFCC team is working on what I may term the ‘Nigerian components’ of the indictment, including the huge suspicious transfer of funds abroad, alleged abuse of letters of credit, and money laundering.
“In fact, the Acting EFCC Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, directed the team members to work round the clock at the weekend because it is a case we must work on with speed.
“We are also interested in the roles played by two banks in the country, including one that has been on our radar for a while for money laundering. This same bank was implicated in the $115million poll bribery scam in 2015 for which former Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Alison-Madueke is wanted for trial.
“We need to act because, in the indictment, the US indicated its plans to freeze some funds linked with Onyema in some accounts within and outside its jurisdiction. It is standard practice to have collaboration with sister organisations all over the world. We cannot wait till the last minutes before playing our roles,” the EFCC source said.
He added that the EFCC crack team would conduct a comprehensive investigation into the activities and remittances into the accounts of the four non-governmental organisations (NGOs) /non-profit groups of Onyema.
“Our immediate suspicion is that these four groups are likely to be tools for money laundering. The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), tax bodies, and other agencies will assist on the status of these organisations.
“We have directed our detectives to ascertain or otherwise if Onyema is allegedly serving as a front for some politically exposed persons (PEPs).”
Also to be investigated are other persons or groups that have assisted Onyema in one way or the other on the allegations against him.
According to the US Government, Onyema and Eghagha used the money to buy luxury cars, including a Rolls Royce for $180,000 and Mercedes for $88, 500 among others.
It further alleged that Onyema spent thousands of dollars on personal purchases at Atlanta Georgia locations of Prada, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Louis Vuitton, the Apple Store, and various airlines.
It was also alleged that the total amount Onyema spent on aircraft acquisition for his airline exceeded $3million.