Nigerian airline owner denies US fraud indictment

The owner of Nigeria's largest carrier Air Peace on Saturday denied he had used fake NGOs to launder millions of dollars in the United States and buy planes.

"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," Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema told Nigeria's This Day newspaper.

The US Department of Justice on Friday charged Onyema and Ejiroghene Eghagha, the airline's finance director in Atlanta, Georgia, for using front firms and NGOs for money laundering.

"Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud," said US attorney Byung J. Pak.

It said Onyema started travelling to Atlanta in 2010 and opened several accounts.

Nigerian press reports said US authorities accused him of transferring over $44.9 million in Atlanta-based accounts from foreign sources.

Onyema is accused in the US of buying planes with money from NGOs such as the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.

"I am innocent of all charges and the US government will find no dirt on me because I have never conducted business with any illegalities," Onyema said.

He added that "every kobo (cent) I transferred to the US for aircraft purchase went through the Central Bank of Nigeria ... and all were used for the same purpose," he said.

A senior official of Nigeria's anti-graft agency EFCC said the commission was aware "Onyema has legal issues in the US," without giving details.

Onyema, who founded Air Peace in 2013, won public praise when he voluntarily airlifted hundreds of Nigerians from South Africa after a wave of xenophobic violence in August and early September.