Monday, 6 July 2020

Notorious Obinwanne Okeke Pleads Guilty to $18m Fraud

On 18 June 2020 the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced that Nigerian entrepreneur Obinwanne Okeke, who operated a group of companies known as the 'Invictus Group', has pleaded guilty to a computer-based intrusion fraud scheme that resulted in $11 million in losses for his victims. Okeke, a self-proclaimed young billionaire, was arrested in August 2019 and has been in custody since then, initially pleading not guilty to the charges against him.

At the time of his arrest, it was reported that Unatrac Limited, a subsidiary of heavy equipment company Caterpillar, was among the companies targeted by Okeke and his co-conspirators in a business email compromise scheme. More than $11 million was said to have been traced to the ring, and it has been claimed that Okeke used proceeds from these activities to establish legitimate business enterprises in Nigeria. Such was his fame that he was featured in a June 2016 edition of Forbes magazine as one of Africa's most promising entrepreneurs in an article titled "Africa's 30 Under 30 For 2016".

Okeke's sentencing is scheduled for 22 October 2020. In the interim, it is unclear what steps are being taken with regard to recovering, for the benefit of his victims, the proceeds of his criminal conduct. In November 2019 it was reported that the Federal High Court in Lagos had ordered that N280,500,000 (then approximately $800,000) in two bank accounts in Okeke's name be forfeited to the Nigerian government. Given that the government was not the party defrauded by Okeke, it would be interesting to understand the government's attitude to requests for compensation to be paid out of these funds. Going by recent experience, victims of fraud that have not been independently advised and represented have not had any great success in making recoveries in similar circumstances.

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