Celebrated Nigerian entrepreneur is set to face prosecution in an American court over his involvement in at least $11m fraud.
United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation said Obinwanne Okeke who is also a Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 honoree and at least six other persons were involved in the crimes.
“There is a probable cause to believe Okeke has conspired with several individuals to access computers without authorisation, and using such access to cause the fraudulent wire transfer of funds,” FBI’s special agent Marshall Ward said in an affidavit he deposed to before Justice Lawrence Leonard, in Norfolk, Virginia, on August 2.
The affidavit also sought a warrant to arrest Okeke who was in the United States at the time.
A piece of Information on the website of the United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia shows that Okeke appeared before Judge Theresa C. Buchanan in Alexandria division of the court at 2:00 pm on Friday, August 9, for a preliminary hearing.
A phone call to the office of the court’s clerk in charge of criminal cases was not immediately returned.
Okeke, the founder of Invictus Group, has a degree in International Studies and Forensic Criminology and Masters of International Relations and Counter-Terrorism Studies from Monash University in Australia, according to his official profile.
Okeke was named on the Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30 For 2016 and was featured on the magazine’s June 2016 cover. A year later, CNBCA named Okeke as a finalist for Young Business Leader of the Year (West Africa).
He was featured regularly in Nigerian and international media. Okeke also earned high praises from Nigerian politicians.
His Invictus Group claims to have investments in oil and gas, construction, energy solutions, technology and agriculture.
In his affidavit, Special Agent Ward said illicit financial transactions were traced to a Gmail account believed to be owned by Okeke. Those transactions, he said, and conspiratorial communications with, at least six other emails, were carried out between 2016 and 2019.
He said the email came up in more than one investigations carried out by FBI agents. He said a confidential source told the FBI that the email account – email@example.com – was “had been used to receive stolen login credentials.
The email account was also used to register fraudulent phishing domains.
The FBI agent said the investigations that nailed began in July 2018 after Unatrac Holding Limited, an export sales office for Caterpillar heavy industry and farm equipment, in the United Kingdom was defrauded of $11 million through a phishing scheme.
The chief finance officer of Unatrac had received an email containing from an intruder on April 1, 2018. The CFO opened the link and was redirected to a phishing website designed to look like a genuine Office365 logon page. The credential he entered on the page were immediately collected by the “unknown intruder” whose IP address was traced to Nigeria.
The FBI said the intruder accessed the CFO’s email account 464 times between April 6 and April 20, 2018.
The credentials were used to remotely login into the CFO’s account, monitor his correspondences and intercepted legitimate emails from employees on the company’s financial team. The emails were marked as read and moved to another folder outside the CFO’s inbox.
Unatrac financial team members, deceived by the genuine-looking emails initiated by the intruder, processed 15 fraudulent payments between April 11 and April 19, 2018.
“For instance, the finance staff received and processed three invoices to Pak Fei Limited: one for $278, 270.66, one for $898, 461.17 and one for $1, 957, 100,” Ward said in the affidavit.
“In total, nearly $11, 000, 000 was sent, all of which went to overseas accounts.”
The funds were too late to retrieve when Unatrac realised that it was a victim of fraud. It later reported the crime to the FBI in June 2018.
Obinwanne started featuring in the fraud scheme after the intruder downloaded a folder from Unatrac CFO’s OneDrive folder and sent it to firstname.lastname@example.org, the email the FBI said is owned by the Invictus Group founder.
Apart from Unatrac, Ward said the official records collected from Google in November 2018 showed that email@example.com was “substantially involved” in illegal activities including trafficking in stolen password and identities, computer intrusion, conspiracies to commit to obtain money through fraudulent wire transfers.
Ward said firstname.lastname@example.org defrauded an American company Red Wing Shoe Company of $108, 470.55.