The CEO of Nigerian carrier Air Peace has been indicted by the US government for charges of fraud and money laundering.
But Allen Onyema, who received praise recently for offering free flights to Nigerians facing xenophobic violence in South Africa, strongly denied the charges.
Onyema, who founded Nigeria’s largest airline in 2013, was charged with bank fraud and money laundering for allegedly moving $20 million from Nigeria through US bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of planes, according to US officials.
According to US government officials, in years following the founding of Air Peace, Onyema travelled to the US and purchased multiple aircraft for the airline.
This is such an emotional video.
CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema receives a round of applause and hugs from Nigerians, who he gave free flights to from South Africa due to xenophobia. pic.twitter.com/s6y76kWASg— Isima (@IsimaOdeh) September 12, 2019
However, over $3 million of the funds used to purchase the aircraft allegedly came from bank accounts for several humanitarian organisations that Onyema had also founded.
Onyema 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 737s 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, according to the US. 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, claimed US officials.
After Onyema received the money in the US, he allegedly laundered over $16 million of the proceeds by transferring it to other accounts.
Onyema said in a statement issued to reporters that he is “innocent of all charges” and added that “the US government will find no dirt on me because I have never conducted business with any illegalities”.
He added: “Be rest assured that I also have my lawyers on this and these mere allegations will be refuted. 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.”