Air Peace Boss Denies Alleged US $20M Fraud & Money Laundering Charges, Vows To Prove His Innocence….
Until Friday 22nd November 2019, he was the darling of the Nigerian people, especially for his philanthropic effort of bringing back stranded Nigerians in South Africa for free, through his airline Air Peace. But last Friday, the United States Department of Justice, announced that Allen Onyema, Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, had been indicted for money laundering.
They claimed Onyema used several fraudulent letters of credit to American banks and initiated wire transfers to the tune of $44.9 Million between 2010 and 2018. The funds were reportedly transferred from the Nigerian bank accounts of organisations which Onyema founded. The organizations are Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.
Back in 2014, Diepreye Dikibo, a spokesman of the ex-Militant Leaders Forum in the Niger Delta, alleged that Allen Onyema and Kingsley Kuku, former adviser to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan on Niger Delta Affairs, used funds meant for the amnesty programme to float Air Peace. Kuku was the coordinator of the project then while Onyema was a consultant.
Dikibo alleged in a statement that Onyema’s Foundation for Ethnic Harmony was one of the biggest beneficiaries of contracts from the presidential amnesty programme.
Below is the full statement from the spokesman of the ex-militant leaders:
“Initially, there were rumors that Air Peace, a new Airline whose aircraft have recently been cited at Lagos Airports belong to the First Lady Patience Faka Jonathan. That is all not true. We believe at this moment, that those who churned out the story that the Airlines belonged to the First Lady did so deliberately to hide the truth and to mislead the people.
The truth did not take too long to come out. Business concerns owned by Allen Onyema, a Lagos based businessman, colleague and close confidant of the Special adviser to the President on Niger Delta & Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme Kingsley Kuku, have now been confirmed as responsible for the Airlines and more to that, Allen Onyema has now publicly confirmed that he is the Chairman of the Air Peace Airlines.
Allen Onyema’s business outfit handled the demobilization and orientation of former Niger Delta militants, which cost Billions of Naira to run. Allen Onyema has also been responsible for high valued training contracts (running into Billions), in the areas of welding training, as well as aviation training for the Presidential Amnesty Programme in countries such as South Africa, US and Dubai.
The appointment of Kingsley Kuku as SA, Niger Delta & Chairman of the Amnesty Programme in January 2011, was a huge blessing for Allen Onyema as it gave him automatic access to a monster chunk of the Sixty Billion Naira, allocated to the amnesty programme yearly.
Two of Allen Onyema’s NGOs, which also doubled as business outfits are known to be the biggest beneficiary of large value of the Presidential Amnesty contracts, and we can confirm that none of these outfits has any ties to the First Lady, Patience Jonathan.
The organizations include the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN), and the International Center for Non-violence & Peace Development (ICNPD).
All the contracts awarded to Allen Onyema and his business run into Millions of Dollars, and are all grossly inflated and over valued in a manner designed to short change the Amnesty Programme and steal the Billions of Naira yearly allocated to manage the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta.
Sources close to Kingsley Kuku and Allen Onyeama say that Kingsley Kuku’s fears that the President might not return in 2015, and the need to settle his future spurred Kuku and Onyema to start the Airlines on time rather than wait for the Presidential election in 2015. Over time, Ex-militant leaders in the Niger Delta had spoken up about the rot in the Presidential Amnesty Programme but were not listened to.
Rather, a band of lesser known and less credible leaders were patronized by the Amnesty Programme and paid to issue press releases that threaten mayhem to Nigerians if President Jonathan is not elected in 2015, as though it was their votes that brought him to power in 2011.
As a group of committed leaders of the Niger Delta, we have over time resolved to work with all Nigerians for the success of President Jonathan in carrying out his responsibilities as a son of the Niger Delta, President of Nigeria and a father to all Nigerians. The journey to success in 2015 will be done in collaboration with all well-meaning Nigerians because we believe, like many other Nigerians, that President Jonathan means well.
In the times past, we spoke about the false records of militants that the Amnesty Office parades but we were ignored. We exposed the faulty award of scholarships to so-called Niger Deltans and we were again ignored, even when we made it clear that Kingsley Kuku had been awarding scholarships to girlfriends, children of girlfriends and many others who had no business with the Niger Delta and that scholarship award.
Novena University is one of the Universities used by the Presidential amnesty Programme to train program recipients. YET the children of the owner of Novena University are also included in Amnesty Programme. A scion of a former political rival to President Jonathan, Timi Alaibe, Kingsley Kuku was not the first choice for the position of Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta & Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme. The first-choice candidate had been Dr Felix Tuodolor, an Ijaw intellectual and highly cerebral first President of the Ijaw Youth Council. Felix Tuodolor was upstaged because there was a belief in certain Ijaw and Niger Delta quarters that he will not ‘SHARE’ money for the boys.
Kuku left the country towards the end of Jonathan’s administration. Kingsley Kuku liked to brag that he has the Chief of Army Staff in his pocket and that he settles the President’s wife very regularly. Quite sordid.
In January 2013, It was Allen Onyema who paid Tens of Thousands of Dollars to the Obama Campaign Support Group, to enable Onyema and Kingsley Kuku enjoy a photo-shot with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives. Clearly, It would therefore not be difficult to start an airline with such heavy financial support.
Question is, will Kuku and his Air Peace Airlines recruit all the pilots they say that Amnesty has trained? Or will they allow the poor fellows to go out there themselves and make bread for their families?
Our collected call to the President is that Kingsley Kuku be immediately removed as SA to the President on Niger Delta & Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme. A reject a thief lording over the collective destiny of the Niger Delta and we call on the President to do the needful as a matter of urgency. Kingsley Kuku’s loyalty is clearly not to the President but to his pockets and to his former lords.
A word has always been good enough for the wise”.
But of course, these call for justice by the ex-militants were ignored.
And then the sad news, which can be described as another dent to Nigeria’s image was exposed to the US and Nigerians.
However, Allen Onyema, swiftly lined up a team of lawyers, saying he was ready to prove his innocence in the US court. He said he would use every legal means to prove his nnocence in court, over the fraud and money laundering allegations levelled against him by the US Attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. This is also as the US court issued a warrant of arrest for Allen Onyema, and also froze his $14M bank account.
A statement was released on Onyema’s behalf from the law firm of A.O. Alegeh & Co, which said that Onyema is ready to defend himself over the allegations made against him by the US Attorney. The the law firm also noted that Allen has a track record built on honesty and integrity, adding that he would take all necessary steps to clear his good name and hard-earned reputation.
The statement 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 purchase of Aircraft, Aircraft spares and Aircraft maintenance”. 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.”
The northern district of Georgia Attorney had charged Onyema 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. He was charged for bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft alongside Ejiroghene Eghagha, the airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance.
Onyema reacted to the news via a press statement, saying that he has never conducted business with any illegalities, and he was willing to defend his innocence in the United States court.
“Thank you for reaching out to me. I can confirm to you that all allegations are false and are in no way in line with my character as a person and as a businessman, whose only aim has been to build Nigeria and improve its wellbeing. I never laundered money in my life, neither have I committed bank fraud anywhere in the world. Every Kobo 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.”
“Be rest assured that I also have my lawyers on this, and these mere allegations will be refuted. The American companies that received the funds are still in business. I never took a penny from any US bank or Nigerian bank. I am willing to defend my innocence in the US courts.”
In a bid to expand its regional and local operations, in September 2018, Air Peace placed an order for 10 Boeing 737 Max 8, and also purchased 10 brand new Embraer 195-E2 planes from Brazil, in a deal said to be worth $212.6 Million in 2019.
The U.S. prosecutors claim that in 2010, Mr Onyema opened several bank accounts in the U.S. and moved over $44.9 Million into the accounts domiciled at Atlanta. In May 2016, Mr Onyema alongside Mr Eghagha, allegedly used a series of export letters of credit to transfer more than $20 Million into the bank accounts. The letters were used to fund the purchase of five Boeing 737 passenger planes.
Prosecutors, however, said the letters were accompanied by fake supporting 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.
The news has saddened many Nigerians who had elevated Onyema as a hero, but as they say, a person is not guilty until the courts say so. However, there has been some reactions as well, as many voiced that they doubted the astronomic rise of Air Peace Airlines. One of such reactions is in a post, which was sent across to many media, although the writer’s identity remains anonymous.
“It was Enrique Perrella, the Publisher of Airways Magazine based in Miami Florida, who first raised the alarm about the suspicious business transaction of Air Peace airline in September 2018.
Enrique argued that it is somewhat financially impossible for an airline like Air Peace, who is relatively unknown in international airways to order for 10 brand-new Boeing 737 Max 8s valued at $1.17Billion. And in spite of the criticism he faced by Nigerians on the report, he maintained that such fund is available only to few big international airlines and for a local airline to possess such financial strength, something was amiss.
As at then, Air Peace had 19 fleets of aircraft comprising of 13 Boeing 737-300/500s, two Embraer ERJ-145 and two Emirates Boeing 777s, one 777-300(ER) (5N-BUU) and a -200(ER) (5N-BVE). All acquired during less than five years of operation.
But before Enrique’s report, many, who followed the quick rise of Air Peace knew deep down, somewhere in our subconscious, that something was not right in the manner the Airline operates. It was the usual gut feeling you have about something, but you are unable to provide concrete evidence to back it up. I mean, an airline came into existence without a merger, news about a joint venture, prior news of acquisition and all of a sudden, it is having the highest number of aircraft in the industry.
On November 22, the United States Department of Justice confirmed our worst fear. Allen Onyema, the founder of Air Peace airline alongside the company’s head of finance and administration, Ejiroghene Eghagha, were indicted for bank fraud and money laundering.
Mr. Onyema was alleged in a 36-page indictment document, spanning several years of investigations of “defrauding financial institutions the deposits of which were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, that is, Wells Fargo Bank and JPMorgan Chase Bank NA.” Onyema was also accused of using his Foundation: Foundation for Harmony, for money laundering.
A warrant of arrest was issued against him by the United States District Court of the Northern District of Georgia on November 19. Mr. Onyema has now been declared wanted for fraud in the value of $20Million.
The irony in all this is that, a few weeks ago, Onyema was the beautiful bride in Nigeria. Like Invictus Obi, the alleged internet fraud Wizkid, who was celebrated by Forbes as one of the most successful under 30 businessmen and became a poster child of what dedication and youth energy represents – Allen, in those moments was the signature of true patriotism.
He was hosted by the House of Representatives at a special plenary and recommended for the national honour, his patriotism was echoed in the corridors of social media and pages of newspaper. He became a national hero.
Not that Onyema didn’t deserve the accolades showered on him, he stood up for Nigeria when the safety of our fellow countrymen was threatened in South Africa, but many now can see that perhaps, his sudden patriotism may have been from the pages of Pablo Escobar’s playbook.
But Allen is not alone in this. Nigeria is a coven of scam artists, with little or no mentors. Those who we wake up singing their praises and looking up to for guidance today, we wake up the next day unravelled in their true glory of fraud and scam. In fact, many who we look up to in society, from business to leadership, none of them can truly swear before Amadioha or Ogun, that they made their money through clean ventures without cutting corners. Nigeria is a big scam bag, with nearly everyone doing the crime and waking up the next morning to shout hosanna hosanna.
Someone said recently, that the reason why it is difficult for most of our billionaires and rich men in the country to mentor the younger generation, or talk about the secret of their wealth is because if they divulge such secret, they will be behind bars and if they mentor anyone, such fellow will end up becoming a criminal.
Hardly does anyone who own a booming business in Nigeria achieve such height by hard work and honest practice. It is an entire network of organized crime, cutting corners, policy manipulation, government patronage, trade monopoly and money laundering for political actors.
I stand to be corrected, but there is no one to look up to here. Our Pastors and Imam are driven by greed and lust for money, that salvation has now been reduced to barter. Our lecturers base course grading on the purchase of their books and handouts. Our activists and comrades are up for grab to the available politician.
It is Onyema today, who is next tomorrow”
We look forward to the legal proceedings on this case and would bring you details as the case unfolds.
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