Obinwanne Okeke also known as Invictus Obi, on Tuesday, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment after being found guilty of an internet fraud in the United States, writes Charles Ajunwa
The saying that “every day is for the thief, one day is for the owner of the house” really played out in the case of Invictus Obi whose real name is Obinwanne Okeke. Before his ordeal, the name Invictus Obi rings a bell especially among the elites. Quite early in life, he carved a niche for himself as a successful entrepreneur with interests in oil and gas, agriculture, private equity, alternative energy, telecom and real estate. The Anambra-born entrepreneur became a role model to many young entrepreneurs aspiring to be like him in the art of doing business. Okeke, who operated his holdings under the ‘Invictus Group’ in Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, also appeared on the covers of many international magazines and cable television networks, talking about entrepreneurship. In 2016, Okeke was recognised by Forbes International as one of Africa’s most outstanding 30 entrepreneurs under the age of 30 and he was described by the magazine as “proof that there is hope for Africa.”
After years of living in deceit, Okeke’s true identity was busted on August 6, 2019, when he was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents at the Dulles International Airport as he was about to leave the United States, and charged with two counts of computer fraud and wire fraud in the United States. Okeke and his syndicates according to charges against them had defrauded American citizens up to $11m “through fraudulent wire transfer instructions in a massive, coordinated, business e-mail compromise scheme.”
The FBI had initiated investigations after Unatrac lodged a complaint in June 2018 stating that they believed they had been compromised. Okeke was said to have used phishing emails to gain unauthorised access to the email account of the CFO of Unatrac Holding Limited, the UK Export Sales office for Mantrac Group, a subsidiary of American construction and mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. In April 2018, a Unatrac executive was said to have fallen prey to a phishing email that allowed conspirators to capture login credentials. The conspirators sent fraudulent wire transfer requests and attached fake invoices. Okeke and his cohorts accessed the CFO’s office 365 account 464 times between April 6 and April 20, 2018, mostly from IP addresses located in Nigeria, from where they sent fraudulent wire transfer from the account to Unatrac’s financial team. The finance team at Unatrac processed 15 payments to overseas accounts, totaling $11 million most of which couldn’t be recovered by the time the company discovered the fraud. But on August 7, 2019, Obi pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The Department of Justice, Central District of California on August 22, 2019, released a statement indicting 80 Nigerians supposedly connected to a syndicate that had ties to Okeke. The case which was given accelerated trial continued on 18, 2020, when the Department of Justice released a statement stating that Okeke had pleaded guilty to the charges against him. Okeke in a statement of facts submitted by his attorneys to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, owned up to his involvement in the case brought against him, saying it was “undertaken knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully and not as a result of an accident, mistake or other innocent reason.” He was said to have waived his right to appeal and agreed to forfeit all interests in any fraud-related assets. The weighty evidence brought against Okeke by the FBI was enough to nail him as his hired attorneys failed to exonerate him from the two counts charges against him.
Expectedly, on February 16, 2021, Okeke was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in the United States. Acting U.S. Attorney, Raj Parekh, for the Eastern District of Virginia, deservedly served justice to Okeke who through his actions wrecked many homes and organisations. Parekh, who described Okeke’s sentencing as precedential, said “Through subterfuge and impersonation, Obinwanne Okeke engaged in a multi-year global business email and computer hacking scheme that caused a staggering $11 million loss to his victims.
“Today’s sentence further demonstrates EDVA’s and FBI’s worldwide reach in vigorously pursuing justice on behalf of American victims and others and holding international cybercriminals accountable, no matter where they commit their crimes.”
Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, Brian Dugan, said cybercriminals would continue to be smoked out and held responsible for their actions.
“The FBI will not allow cyber criminals free rein in the digital world to prey on U.S. companies. This sentencing demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to working with our partners at the Department of Justice and our foreign counterparts to locate cybercriminals across the globe and bring them to the United States to be held accountable.”
The FBI in 2019, received nearly 24, 000 complaints about Business Email Compromise scams, with losses totaling S1.7 billion for an average loss of about $72,000, according to FBI Internet Crime Report. Nigerian government’s cooperation through its anti-corruption agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) helped in no small measure in the comprehensive conclusion of the fraud charges brought against Okeke by the U.S. Justice Department.
It would be recalled that the EFCC on November 21, 2019, secured an order of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos for the final forfeiture of N280, 555, 010 belonging to two companies owned by Okeke. The companies are: Invictus Oil and Gas Limited and Invictus Investment Limited. This followed a motion filed and argued by counsel to EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, and on its strength Justice Rilwan Aikawa gave the order of final forfeiture. Oyedepo had prayed the court to grant the application for final forfeiture having met all requirements set by the court. According to him, “there are no interested party or parties nor individuals who have shown cause why the money should not be finally forfeited.”
EFCC Investigator, Ariyo Muritala, in an affidavit filed in support of the forfeiture application, disclosed that the Commission’s investigation was triggered by a request for information on Okeke and three others by the United States Department of Justice, Office of the Legal Attache, US Consulate General.
Okeke, who holds a Master’s degree in International Business and Counter-Terrorism from Monash University, Australia, through his conviction and sentencing in the United States brought shame to his family in particular and Nigeria at large. As he goes to jail, Okeke’s 10 years sentencing should serve as a big lesson to those that still indulge in cybercrime that their days are numbered. When the long arm of the law finally catches up with such people like in the case of Okeke, their wickedness will be visited upon them.