By Emeka Umeagbalasi
The detailed criminal indictment of Allen Ifechukwu Atthan Onyema (Air Peace Boss), Ejiroghene Eghagha and their ‘other associates ‘known and unknown’ by the Grand Jury of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, in the Criminal Indictment No. 1:19-CR-464, dated 19th November, 2019, is a clear indication that America is not Nigeria where ethnic, religious, political, pecuniary, primordial and clannish sentiments or interests and immoralities have taken over the fight against corruption and immoralities.
The authorized hasty, poor and ‘Nigerian way’ response (injurious public denials) and handling of the issue by the legal and media aides of the Air Peace boss also amounted to adding salt to the injury. For purpose of local and international safety of the fast growing and ambitious aviation company (Air Peace) and survival of its skilled and unskilled employees, the camp of the Air Peace boss should have quietly and carefully followed and handled the issue; especially when there is plea bargaining in the laws of the United States.
Open denial of criminal responsibility is understandably legally guaranteed in the world over under the UN System, so long as the person or body making the denial strongly holds or believes that it is truly innocent. But this can backfire, especially when it tends to make the indicting authority (i.e. USA) to look like a pathological liar before the comity of nations. This is likely to dim the chances of reprieve such as plea bargaining for the indicted.
It is therefore correct to say that the Air Peace boss and his legal and media handlers goofed damagingly in the instant case. Recall that the Air Peace boss and his ‘known and unknown’ associates were indicted in US for “false and duplicated purchases”, “presentation of false documents, including false letters of credits”, and “money laundering and illicit money transfers using his NGOs’ not-for-profit accounts”.
As promising and important as the Air Peace aviation business is to Nigeria and the Igbo Nation, it must not be widely seen, despite an international legitimate criminal indictment, as having been built or operated on local or international fraud. We, as a people, must desist from fashioning our society in the way of ‘a banana republic where anything goes’. Nigerians, including the People of Igbo Nation must, therefore, at all times, go beyond seeing any act of crime or corruption or immorality from sectional, primordial or parochial and clannish perspective or whereby ‘it is not crime or fraud or immorality so long as it is committed by our own brother or sister’. This has remained a major bane in the country’s progress, if any.
Talking about integrity and reputation, I had a personal experience with the Government of the United States way back in early 2013 when I was nominated by the United States Department to represent Nigeria at the Int’l Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) on NGO Management in USA, organized by the DoS for class of June, 2013. I was thoroughly investigated by the US Embassy and the US Secret Services to ensure no criminal records and when I enquired, I was informed that it was a different ball game when I am the guest of the United States Government than when I am traveling to US on my personal capacity and that the current Chinese President, Xi Jinping, attended same program in 1979 with his records intact in the US archives till date.
Therefore, the indictment of the Air Peace boss and his named partner and their other associates, ‘known and unknown’, and the hasty and blundered response by their legal and media aides, speak volume of how the ‘Nigerian factor’ has robbed Nigerians of critical sense of judgment, especially in matters requiring careful and meticulous analysis before decisions; which is why we said that “America is not Nigeria”. The Air Peace boss’s legal aides should have carefully studied the legal provisions and processes in the US, especially as they relate to “mala prohibita” and “mala inse”.
The Air Peace boss’s ordeal is synonymous with a ‘serving judge giving, say, $5,000, for an international conference in Ghana, only for same to be diverted to another use or be collected doubly for same international conference. Going by Nigerian laws, this is a clear case of fraud and corruption. In the case of the indictment of the Air Peace boss proper, it is granted that a legitimate international aviation transaction was made and concluded way back in May, 2016.
But the big question that fueled the US and Canadian indictments is why was the same transaction done and completed six months earlier or in May, 2016, got duplicated in November, 2016, using another US registered company (Springfield Aviation in Atlanta registered in April 2016) owned by the same Air Peace boss? According to the indictment, there were in all, “false purchases”, “false documents, including false letters of credits”, “false purchase of aircraft already purchased and owned by Air Peace, which was never traced to and owned by the virgin US registered company-Springfield Aviation, owned by the Air Peace the boss.
Of note too, was the fact that “the Springfield Aviation did not have proofs of aircraft ownership and certified aviation training or education in USA”. The indictment further found that “Nigerian and US bank accounts of not-for-profit Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), owned by the Air Peace boss were being used to “courier ‘hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars for profit oriented capital business transactions in the United States”. The accounts of the three Air Peace boss’s-owned NGOs were further accused of “being used for huge international money laundering and transfers; all in gross breach of the US laws.
Finally, it must be reminded that in law and criminology, there are laws with universal application and acceptability (‘mala inse’) and those with restricted application and acceptability (‘mala prohibita’). “Tipping Culture” (giving people money for rendering menial services), for instance, falls under ‘mala prohibita” in the United States. In other words, it is not a crime in the USA. These explain why the Air Peace boss and his legal and media handlers ought not to have hastily and wobbly reacted publicly, but should have been careful and tactful.
Emeka Umeagbalasi is the chairman, Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (InterSociety). He writes from Onitsha.