- Anti-graft Agency Investigates Fidelity Bank, ex-Amnesty Boss, Others
- Institutions Cancel Awards for Onyema
By The New Diplomat’s Special Investigation Desk
Following the United States (US) indictment of Mr Allen Onyema, chairman and CEO of Air Peace Limited and his cohorts on 27 count multiple charges of bank fraud, credit application fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), has commenced interrogation of Mr Onyema, a move insiders described as sustained investigations.
Sources confided in The New Diplomat that the Air Peace Chairman, Mr Onyema, who is currently battling soaring reputational crisis arising from the United States release of a detailed 36 page documentary allegations, was quizzed by the of EFCC as part of a global security, intelligence and anti-money laundering agencies collaboration with the US FBI and Homeland Security to unmask the various strands in the alleged crooked wire deals amounting to $44.9 million in which Onyema, his company’s staff, Ejiroghene Eghagha, Fidelity Bank and another financial institution were incriminated.
Sources hinted The New Diplomat that Mr Onyema was interrogated for several hours on Wednesday at the Lagos office of the EFCC on subject matters relating to allegations bordering on money laundering, bank fraud, inappropriate transactions and unlawful operations. He is expected to be invited periodically in what an insider called an on-going marathon investigation.
The New Diplomat gathered that Mr Onyema who hails from Anamabra State was however, released on administrative bail.
“He was granted administrative bail but he is under close watch, surveillance by the Commission as it is an on-going investigation with much international dimensions. It is part of our on-going collaboration with the FBI and other agencies under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) which we entered into, that is between Nigeria and the United States. We are looking seriously at the various issues involving money laundering against the suspect (Onyema) and other suspects. The Nigerian angles to the allegations are being explored. One of these two banks mentioned have been on our radar for a while. It was also mentioned in the alleged Diezani money deals. The Commission may soon invite the MD of that bank also for questioning.”
The source added: “ We cannot rule out the Nigerian components of these whole mess…For instance, the US is seeking the forfeiture of over $13 million left in some accounts linked with the suspect in the United States and Canada. The funds are $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. We cannot rule out some of the money in some accounts in Nigeria. And our investigation may reveal the identities of other accomplices. …we have to collaborate with the US Government on the forfeiture process and in the whole investigations.”
The New Diplomat gathered that as part of the broad investigations process, the anti-graft agency may extend an invitation to the managing director of Fidelity Bank, Mr Nnamdi Okonkwo, whose bank’s name featured frequently in the extensive US report. It was also learnt that a former Presidential Adviser and Coordinator of the Amnesty programme who has been repeatedly mentioned as being responsible for awarding Onyema’s -led not-for-profit bodies multi-billion naira contracts on peace-building, training of militants, etc may also be invited. The Onyema-promoted NGOs are Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited and Every Child Limited.
Investigations reveal that given the international dimensions involved in the Onyema indictment, the EFCC is also examining the suspect’s qualification, eligibility and credentials to set-up and run the above specialized Not-for-profit organizations given the eligibility requirements in global jurisdictions, including in the US, Canada, Dubai, etc.
Said an EFCC source: “The suspect trained as a Lawyer from the University of Ibadan in 1989. But he was awarded several multi-billion naira contracts that require carrying out his peace-building, trainings and other specialized roles in Non-Violence and Peace Media in international jurisdictions that require certifications in these areas. Besides, you must have extensive years of practice and eligibility credentials to qualify for such contracts? So the question is who allegedly helped broke the Law, awarded these contracts if indeed he was ineligible to transact in these international jurisdictions? Don’t forget American authorities also said the suspect used about $3 million from his NGOs, including Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Centre for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited and Every Child Limited, to buy planes for Air Peace. Apart from money laundering allegations, there is the eligibility dimension. Does he have the requisite CERTIFICATIONS set up and run these NGOs and be qualified to be awarded these cross-border peace-building multi-billion naira deals by the Amnesty Office? Those are valid issues that raised red-flag in the US and Canada and likely in other jurisdictions…we may soon know. In the US and Canada, for example, to run these specialized NGOs, you have to be certified. Was he certified to do so in Dubai, US, Canada and all jurisdictions where he transacted? So far, an answer has not been provided! So on what basis, was he engaged to do these so-called international peace building trainings for militants, that we now suspect to be channels for money laundering?”
The source added: “For example, let me break down what I’m saying and be very frank with you. In Abuja, there is this centre for Non-violence, peace-building, diplomacy owned and being managed by a former Under Secretary General (USG) of the United Nations. The promoter is also a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. I won’t mention his name. His background, and the institutional profile, knowledge, expertise and prolonged years of practice eminently make such a body eligible for such contracts from Amnesty Office or consulting jobs and that make it equally eligible to undertake such briefs at the international jurisdiction. But on this matter, where we are now looking at the track records, institutional background of these NGOs promoted by the suspect (Onyema) as well as the suspects ELIBIBILITY in international jurisdictions, the natural suspicion is that these NGOs were just simply channels for money laundering.”
It was further gathered that as part of a sustained effort to lift the veil of issues surrounding the Onyema scandal, a former coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, who allegedly awarded the Air Peace Chairman’s NGOs these puzzling contracts, is being sought to provide leads. It was gathered that Interpol may have been contacted in a bid by EFFC to track down the former Amnesty Office Coordinator.
The New Diplomat’s checks also indicate that some organizations and educational institutions that have previously penciled Mr Onyema for awards and recognitions have had them cancelled at the weekend. According to the organizers, the action is to help protect the integrity of these organizations and institutions. Mr Onyema has been facing multiple charges of money laundering and bank fraud in excess of $20 million in the US following his indictment by a US grand jury. He, however, debunked the allegations as “ false and are in no way in line with my character as a person and as a business man.” According to him, all the money transferred for the purchase of aircraft went through the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN), stressing that he has “never laundered money” in his life neither has he committed bank fraud anywhere in the world.
Notwithstanding, Mr Onyema and his company, Air peace, a top-grade, thriving Nigerian Airline have been fighting increasing injurious reputational crisis since the suspect’s indictment scandal broke. A preliminary Reputation Audit carried out by The New Diplomat indicate a spiraling personal and corporate reputational distress This development is further aggravated by broadening investigations against Onyema and Eghagha as Canadian authorities have reportedly commenced moves to execute a corresponding warrant of arrest issued against the duo. Both the US and Canada have long-standing diplomatic protocols and treaties on cross-border crimes, criminality and financial fraud. Russell Vineyard, a magistrate at the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia had issued a corresponding warrant of arrest for Mr Onyema and Eghagha in Canada in early September. With this, the US law enforcement agents reportedly requested the assistance of their Canadian counterparts to take the duo into custody if found within Canadian jurisdiction. In August, 2018, Mr Onyema established Bluestream Aero Services and Springfield Aviation Company in Ontario, Canada, respectively.