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INVESTIGATION

Air Peace CEO, Allen Onyema risks jail over money laundering, bank fraud

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Air Peace CEO, Allen Onyema risks jail over money laundering, bank fraud

Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, the Chairman, CEO, and founder of Air Peace, a Nigerian airline, has been charged 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.

The Nigerian businessman was accused of moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through US bank accounts in a scheme involving “false documents” based on the purchase of airplanes.

Onyema was indicted alongside Ejiroghene Eghagha, the airline’s chief of administration and finance, who is said to have committed aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.

In a statement issued by the district attorney’s office on Friday, 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.

“Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud,” Byung J, US attorney for the northern district of Georgia, was quoted in the statement.

“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.”

Robert J. Murphy, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Atlanta field division, also 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.”

Robert Hammer, another special agent, accused Onyema of setting up “various innocent sounding multi-million dollar asset purchases which were nothing more than alleged fronts for his scam”.

Onyema was said to have started 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.

After he founded Air Peace in 2013, Onyema was said to have gone to the US to purchase aircraft and “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 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. 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.”

The statement, however, added that Onyema and Eghagha are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

In September, Onyema was hailed by many for evacuating Nigerians stranded in South Africa at no cost. The house of representatives had subsequently also recommend him for national award.

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INVESTIGATION

Controversy trails emergence of Prof. Lilian Salami as UNIBEN new VC

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Professor Salami

The appointment of a substantive Vice Chancellor for University of Benin, UNIBEN is presently causing ripples at the institution as some concerned stakeholders have accused the management of allegedly working to impose an unpopular candidate on the school.

THE WITNESS reliably gathered that a Professor of Home Economics/Nutritional Education, Mrs. Lilian Imuetinyan Salami has emerged as the second female Vice Chancellor of the institution.

Her appointment came 28 years after Prof. (Mrs.) Alele William left as the first female Vice Chancellor of UNIBEN.

The Public Relations Officer of the University, Mr. Michael Osasuyi, confirmed the appointment in a statement on Friday in Benin.

She will take over from the outgoing Vice Chancellor, Prof. Faraday Osasere Orumwense, whose tenure ends in November.

Inside sources however revealed that the emergence of Professor Salami is a big shock, as she becomes the third person of Benin extraction in succession, to be named Vice Chancellor of the University.

Sources further disclosed that the new UNIBEN VC came second in the exam conducted for aspirants for the exalted position, after Prof. MacDonald Idu who scored the highest marks, while Prof. George Eriyamremu came third.

Professors​ Idu and Eremayanru are both from Delta State.

Born in Jos, Plateau State on August 8, 1956, Prof. Salami, (nee Emovon), hails from Benin.

Her early schooling started in Jos but was truncated by the Nigerian Civil War. She later completed her primary and secondary education in Edo State.

She obtained her West African School Certificate (O’ levels) from Baptist High School, Benin City.

She proceeded to the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point Campus, United States of America, in 1975. She had her summer schooling in the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. She later transferred to North Dakota State University, Fargo after she got married in 1977, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in 1979 in Home Economics and Master’s degree in Nutrition in 1982.

She returned to Nigeria in 1983 and enrolled to serve in the National Youth Service Corps in Benin City.

Upon completion of the national service, she made a brief start of her teaching career with the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).

Between 1985 and 1994, she lectured Nutrition at the University of Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.

This was interjected when she gained admission into University of Nigeria, Nsukka for a doctoral degree in Human Nutrition in 1989 which she obtained in 1991.

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INVESTIGATION

OPS responsible for rising pension fund – PenCom

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The acting Director-General of the National Pension Commission, Aisha Dahir-Umar, says the total pension assets in Nigeria rose from N7.44tn in January to over N9tn as of March.

Dahir-Umar attributed the boost in the pension assets to the support of the organised private sector and labour.

The Pencom DG, who was represented by Salihu Bwala, made the disclosure on Thursday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, during the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association and Pencom interactive session on current developments and challenges in the implementation of the Pension Reform Act, 2014.

She said, “The pension industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the country with the support of the organised private sector and labour.

“The Contributory PensionScheme plan currently has over N9tr pension assets. This feat could not have been achieved without the support of the organised private sector.”

She explained that the commission had developed a software application that tackled the problem of multiple registrations and urged employers to encourage their employees to avail themselves to their respective pension administrators for data recapture and regularisation.

– Source: PUNCH

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BUSINESS

Wema Bank, Dana Airline in alleged money laundering scandal

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One of the nation’s topflight banking institutions, Wema Bank and Dana Air, owners of Sri Sai Vandana Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) have been fingered in a money laundering crime and may be prosecuted by the anti-graft agency.

According to a source, the airline’s inflight donation collected between 2014 and 2018 without following due process is the bane of contention.

“The EFCC will take it up. We will investigate and prosecute the crime element once prima facie is established,” the acting spokesperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Tony Orilade said.

Dana started Nigeria’s Sri Sai Vandana Foundation in 1995 and commenced the inflight donation in partnership with the Sickle Cell Foundation of Nigeria. But after the airline suffered a major crash in Lagos in 2012 in which 153 persons died, it ceased the collaboration, ‘re-strategised’, and solely ran the inflight donations.

Reports also reveal how Dana through Sri Sai Vandana Foundation, got the inflight donations between January 2014 and October 2018, raking in millions of naira deposited into the Wema Bank account number 0121291839 without due registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), a prerequisite for complying with the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering (SCUML) regulations.

The EFCC official stated that the company will be sanctioned and that when there is a vacuum that is when we will lift the veil.

He further explained that by ‘lifting the veil’ he simply means “The company cannot run without humans. So, it is when everyone denies being members of the company that we go after the individuals.”

In line with the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, it is mandatory every Designated Non – Financial Institution, DNFI, to register with SCUML in order to legally operate in Nigeria.

Contravening the SCUML guidelines have some specific penalties, including “suspension or revocation of license, fines or imprisonment or both,” according to Sections 15 to 17 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended).

It stipulates a maximum of 14 years jail term for an individual but, in the case of a corporate organisation, the law says such organisation would pay “a fine of not less than 100 percent of the funds and properties acquired as a result of the offense committed” and would also have its license withdrawn.

Precisely, the law defines the unlawful act listed in subsection (2) of the Act to include “corruption, bribery, fraud, counterfeiting, and piracy of products…or any other criminal act specified in this Act or any other law in Nigeria.”

As such, Wema Bank officials involved in Dana’s account opening process may as well be prosecuted by the anti-graft agency, as soon as SCUML forwards its findings to the EFCC.

Source: ICIR

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