Obinwanne Okeke, a young Nigerian businessman who is now facing prosecution in a U.S. court over his involvement in at least $11 million fraud, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of wire and computer fraud at his first hearing on Monday.
Okeke, who is popularly known as Invictus Obi in Nigeria and had been honoured by Forbes as one of the youngest enterprising individuals in Africa, sparked online frenzy recently when news broke that he had been arrested for allegedly defrauding top American companies of huge sums of money.
At his first hearing on Monday, presiding judge Douglas Miller at the Newport News, Virginia, federal courthouse, said the case is “complex,” adding that Okeke should be remanded in prison until February 18, 2020, when the trial would continue, the Premium Times reports.
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Okeke’s appearance in court on Monday is the beginning of his criminal trial since he was arrested and remanded in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service over a month ago.
He had earlier appeared before separate judges for preliminary hearings in his bail applications, but all were declined, the Premium Times report added.
Documents show that the young Nigerian entrepreneur had travelled to the U.S. recently without prior knowledge that he was being investigated by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for $11 million fraud.
He was arrested last month after the Special Agent Marshall Ward of the FBI and his team launched an investigation in July 2018, following a petition by Unatrac Holding Limited.
The F.B.I. had, in June 2018, received complaints from Unatrac, an international subsidiary of heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, that Okeke gained unauthorised access to the e-mail account of its chief financial officer and was behind a series of fake invoices totalling $11 million.
Okeke had also allegedly duped an American shoe manufacturer and used several e-mail accounts which have already been linked to fraudulent activities online, the FBI added.
The charge sheet read: “In June 2018, Unatrac Holding Limited, the export sales office for Caterpillar heavy industrial and farm equipment, headquartered in the United Kingdom, contacted the FBI.
“They reported that Unatrac had been victimised through an email compromise, which ultimately resulted in fraudulent wire transfers totalling nearly 11million US Dollars. After reviewing the documentation provided by the representatives, the FBI opened an investigation in July 2018.
“The FBI discovered that after capturing the legitimate credentials of Unatrac’s Chief Financial Officer, the accused was able to log in and access the CFO’s entire Office365 account, which included all of his emails and various digital files, the logs indicated that between April 6 and April 20, 2018, the intruder accessed the CFO’s account 464 times, mostly from Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from Nigeria.
“With full access to the account, the intruder sent fraudulent wire transfer requests from the CFO’s email account to members of Unatrac’s internal financial team. The intruder also attached fake invoices to the emails to enhance the credibility of the requests.”
“Believing the wire transfer requests had come from their CFO, Unatrac finance staff processed approximately 15 fraudulent payments between April 11 and April 19, 2018. In some cases, several payments were sent to the same account.
“For example, the finance staff received and processed three invoices to Pak Fei Trade Limited: one for $278,270.66, one for $898, 451.17, and one for $1,957,100.00. In total, nearly $11,000,00 (Eleven million US dollars) was sent, all of which went to overseas accounts.
“By the time, the fraud was discovered, it was too late to cancel the transfers, and Unatrac was able to recover very little of the transferred funds.”
During the investigation, which lasted for almost a year, it emerged that Okeke and six others were involved in the crimes.
In other words, Okeke was featured in the fraud scheme after the intruder downloaded a folder from Unatrac CFO’s OneDrive folder and sent it to email@example.com, an email the FBI said is owned by Okeke.
Okeke subsequently appeared before Judge Theresa C. Buchanan in Alexandria division of the court at 2:00 pm on Friday, August 9, for a preliminary hearing.
31-year-old Okeke, who was in 2016 named by Forbes as one of ’30 Entrepreneurs Under 30 to Watch’, is the founder of Invictus Group, which has investments in construction, agriculture, oil and gas, telecoms and real estate.
As of 2016, Okeke, who holds a Bachelors and a master’s degree (MA) in International Relations and Counter Terrorism (cum laude) from Monash University, Australia, had 28 permanent and 100 part-time employees across nine companies.
The Nigerian entrepreneur has been widely celebrated not only in his country but across the continent. Recently, he was listed among 100 Most Influential Young Africans 2018 and was nominated for the All African Business Leaders Award for Young Business Leader (West Africa).
The AABLA Award is the most prestigious award for African entrepreneurs and Okeke was nominated alongside three others.
Okeke, who recently married, will now remain in custody till 2020 without bond as he awaits trial on two counts of wire and computer fraud of about $11m fraud