The founder and CEO of Nigerian airline Air Peace has been charged with bank fraud and money laundering in the United States. According to American officials and court documents, the money was used by Allen Onyema to pay for luxury cars and designer shopping.
The 56-year-old founder of Nigerian carrier Air Peace has been accused by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia of moving money from Nigeria through U.S. bank accounts for the false purchase of aircraft.
Onyema sent aircraft to South Africa following xenophobic attacks
In a news statement released by U.S. Attorney Byung Pak and carried by CNN.
“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.”
The Nigerian airline executive had previously been praised by his countrymen after sending aircraft to South Africa earlier in the year to bring home Nigerian citizens who were facing anti-immigrant attacks.
Onyema claims to be innocent of all charges against him
In a statement issued to local reporters in Atlanta CNN quotes Mr. Onyema as saying that he is “innocent of all charges and the US government will find no dirt on me because I have never conducted business with any illegalities.”
“Be rest assured that I also have my lawyers on this and these mere allegations will be refuted,” Onyema said. “I never laundered money in my life, neither have I committed bank fraud anywhere in the world. Every Kobo (of Nigerian currency) I transferred to the US for aircraft purchase went through the Central Bank of Nigeria LC regime and all were used for the same purpose.
“The American companies that received the funds are still in business,” he stated. “I never took a penny from any US bank or Nigerian bank. I am willing to defend my innocence in the US courts.”
Lawyers for the accused Air Peace CEO and Nigerian businessman later sent a letter to the Cable News Network which read:
“On behalf of Allen Onyema, we hereby state that he strongly denies and will vigorously defend himself against the allegations made against him by the US Attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, in relation to the purchase of aircraft, aircraft spares, and aircraft maintenance.
“None of the allegations involve any third party funds but relate to his funds utilized in the airline business. There is no allegation that any bank (in the United States, Nigeria or elsewhere), company or individual suffered any financial or any loss whatsoever. The allegations are unfounded and strange to him. Allen Onyema has a track record built on honesty and integrity and will take all necessary steps to clear his good name and hard-earned reputation. He looks forward to an opportunity to rebut these allegations in Court.”
A warrant issued for his arrest shows that Onyema faces 27 counts of money laundering, three counts of credit application fraud, three counts of bank fraud and two conspiracy charges.
Onyema lived a lavish lifestyle
Around ten years ago, Onyema began visiting Atlanta. While in Georgia, he opened both personal and business bank accounts that federal prosecutors claim was used to receive $45 million from foreign sources.
Of this money, hundreds of thousands of dollars came from organizations in Nigeria that were supposed to be promoting peace in the West African country.
In the indictment, it claims that Onyema used the money for personal living expenses that included an armored Lexus LX570, a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes, plus shopping at Prada, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Louis Vuitton and Apple stores in Atlanta.
The free flights Mr. Onyema laid on to repatriate his countryman following the xenophobic attacks were undoubtedly a kind gesture for which he deserves credit. Before passing further comment we will wait and see how this all plays out in court and if the Air Peace boss is as he says not guilty.