That Airpeace Chairman’s US Indictment.
From the desk of Nat Cole:
After reading the press release on the US indictment of Airpeace Chairman, his initial response or reaction and his Nigeria Attorney’s Office Press Release I find the case interesting especially as an Anti Money Laundering Specialist. I find the indictment of Onyema very problematic. I read his short response and his attorney’s press release to the charges and I find both to be even more problematic because they failed to address the main issues at hand among which are 27 counts of Money Laundering charges. That is a lot of charges. Please note that he is presumably innocent until proven guilty. Onyema saying that the charges are just mere allegations shows how uninformed he is on such matters and I am sure he will soon find out that these are not mere allegations but serious allegations that may send him to jail under the US criminal justice system and not Nigeria.
With these charges coming from the combined efforts of these US government Agencies such as the US Attorney’s Office and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, it is not a good sign. These agencies do not make frivolous charges and are dead serious with these types of high profile indictments. If I were advising Onyema I will caution him and he should be very careful and note that playing to the gallery in Nigeria will not help his cause here in the US. Especially when the criminal justice system has been on a roll to go after some folks that use the US banking system to further their business interests albeit illegally. The source of the funds matters and how such are obtained especially when such are transacted in US dollars via US bank accounts and from a country whose Anti Money Laundering profile is not robust is a very big red flag. As we say in a Nigerian parlance, my folks wahala dey!. Meaning there is a big problem here for Onyema.
Furthermore, the indictment did not say that Onyema and his companies failed to use the CBN. So, him saying that he used the CBN as part of his defense is irrelevant because that is not what the indictment is all about. This is a distraction from the main issues at hand in my opinion. I know it is a public relations nightmare for Onyema but he needs to understand that that the combined team of US agencies he is dealing with do not make mere allegations and until they are pretty certain they will not go for an indictment not to mention 27 counts on Money Laundering alone.
For starters, let us take a look at the indictment with particular emphasis on the parts relating to Money Laundering. The others relating to aggravated identity theft and bank fraud are pretty straight forward. If false or falsified documents are used to procure foreign exchange as alleged in the indictment it is a criminal offence here in the US. Unlike in Nigeria were falsifying documents are common place in the banking system but in the US it is frowned upon more than in Nigeria. Looking at the indictment:
1. We have 27 counts of Money Laundering against him.
2. Onyema allegedly used falsified documents to support his applications to obtain millions of dollars in foreign exchange via Letters of Credit transactions. The key thing here is falsified documents to obtain millions of dollars in foreign exchange from the CBN at a very favorable exchange rate for the purpose of purchasing aircrafts. Did he use falsified documents or not?
3. That the letters of credits were used to obtain and transfer more than $20 million dollars into Atlanta based bank accounts controlled by Onyema. Meaning that the letters of credit transactions were strictly for the benefit of Onyema and not any third party business enterprise.
4. Springfield Aviation Company LLC registered in Georgia is owned by Onyema. That the purported company called Springfield Aviation that Onyema purportedly claimed to purchase the aircrafts from is owned and controlled by him. He controlled both the source and destination of the funds but such were hidden under false pretext as if he was doing business with a third party. That is a Money Laundering offence.
5. In addition, Springfield Aviation never owned the aircrafts Onyema was reportedly buying with these letters of credit from Springfield. Ownership of aircrafts such as these are easy to establish and I am sure that the US government agencies would easily have ascertained this fact. Moreover, tax and regulatory papers filed would have disclosed that Springfield Aviation does not have such assets to sell. If they did sell them the IRS would have been aware of such transactions as profit from the transactions would be reported on its tax returns. Obviously it seemed that this was not the case. I believe that this is part of the reasons why the IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) Division was involved in this investigation. When the CI is involved then you have to be concerned. I have worked with them and they do not play or fool around with frivolities.
6. Furthermore, the company that Onyema must have claimed in bank documents that allegedly drafted the appraisals presumably to appraise the value of the aircrafts he purportedly was buying did not exist. While such dubious appraisals and non existent appraisal company may fool the CBN, it will not fly here in the US where the existence of such can be easily confirmed. This will be a very easy thing to prove in my opinion. This alone will be difficult to disprove if the agencies are correct about this assertion. I have no reason to believe that they would not have confirmed that there is no such company in their jurisdiction.
7. That over $3.00 million of the funds used to purchase the aircrafts allegedly came from the bank accounts of NGOs controlled by Onyema. Please note that the NGOs are not Aviation related companies. Namely, the NGOs are:
(a) Foundation for Ethnic Harmony
(b) Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development
(c) Every Child Limited and
(d) A media organisation called All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited.
These are all organisations not involved in Aviation but money from them allegedly used to pay for aircrafts purchased by Onyema according to the indictment. These organisations are what we call front companies used in perpetuating the Money Laundering scheme according to the indictment. The law frowns seriously at these and these types of schemes involving front companies are difficult to disprove especially when they are not even involved in Aviation or Aircrafts maintenance or purchase.
The important thing to note is that Onyema talking about not using any bank money to fund his aircraft purchases is irrelevant because that was not alleged. But using or obtaining foreign exchange in dollars under false pretences with funds from these NGOs and media organisation he controlled to obtain millions of dollars in funds through letters of credit using the US banks is a Money Laundering offence in the US. Some of these transactions may have been done the so-called “Nigerian way” and it does not make them legal by an stretch of the imagination here in the US.
I noticed that Onyema did not say that he did not use falsified documents to obtain millions of dollars in letters of credit used for transferring these funds to the US via the CBN. This is part of the crux of the matter. Use of falsified documents in the process is called fraud and a Money Laundering offence. This is about data mining and very good forensic work to unveil all the documents used in the process of obtaining the foreign exchange and disbursements of the funds in the US.
As we can now see that Onyema’s initial reaction failed to address these issues but it addresses non issues that really has no direct impact on the alleged infractions committed by him in Atlanta, Georgia. We shall see how this indictment evolves if this case goes to trial. From my point of view and with the little information put out by the US Attorney’s Office the case does not look good at all for the CEO of Airpeace, Mr. Onyema.
He also claimed that the US government will find no dirt on him and that he Onyema has not been involved in any illegalities as he put it. This cannot be true because the US government already found dirt on him and this is the reason why he was indicted. It is now left for the US Courts and not the US government to clear him of the dirt or charges.
Secondly, even if he was not personally involved directly in these illegal activities the fact that he is the beneficial owner of all these transactions will definitely make him culpable if such can be proven in court. Knowing how this works it may be easy to prove that Onyema is the beneficial owner and according to the law he could be found guilty of Money Laundering offence here in the US. In Money Laundering schemes the issue of the beneficial owner is part of the game. Yes you may have a front company or individuals doing the dirty things but if you are the beneficial owner you are as good as doing it yourself here in the US or even in Nigeria. That is the way this works. The Mafia bosses now know this after the infamous gangster Al Capone was eventually found guilty in one of the most famous Money Laundering cases of our time here in the US. Onyema should be talking to a good criminal defense attorney involved in Anti Money Laundering cases not just any attorney.
Finally, until we see the actual court documents my feeling is that there may be other charges lurking around in the background either for Onyema or other individuals that may unfold in the coming days. However, I sure hope that I am wrong about this. Unfortunately the image of the Nigerian business man continues to be battered even before their guilt or innocence is established. The reality is that this case may be a good candidate for plea bargain in my opinion.