The United States authorities have postponed until next year the sentencing of a Nigerian businessman, Obiwanne Okeke, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The 36-year-old and Chairman of Abuja-based Invictus Group, before his arrest in 2019, was listed by Forbes as one of the influential young entrepreneurs in the world.
Also known as Invictus Obi, Mr Okeke was nabbed by the American Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) for conspiracy with some individuals, some of whom remain at large, to defraud American companies and individuals over a period of at least four years.
A single scheme that targeted Unatrac, a subsidiary of American heavy equipment manufacturer, Caterpillar, saw the syndicate walk away with up to $11 million in spurious wire transfers, court documents showed.
In June 2018, representatives of 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 scammed through an email compromise, which ultimately resulted in fraudulent wire transfers of nearly $11 million.
“The representatives explained that on or about April 1, 2018, Unatrac’s Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) received a phishing’ email containing a web link, purportedly to the login page of the CFO’s online email account hosted by Microsoft Office365. When the CFO opened the link, it instead led him to a phishing website crafted to imitate the legitimate Office365 login page.
“Believing the page to be real, he entered his login credentials, which were captured by an unknown intruder who controlled the spoofed web page,” FBI documents read.
Logs indicated that between April 6 and April 20, 2018, the intruder accessed the CFO’s account at least 464 times, mostly from Internet Protocol (IP) addresses in Nigeria. The IP addresses were traced to Mr Okeke and his co-conspirators.
Agents of the American security agency obtained an arrest warrant and intercepted the suspect at the airport while returning to Nigeria after a brief visit to the U.S. in 2019.
However, after months of denying his involvement in the crime before a federal judge in the U.S. and argument over jurisdiction, Mr Okeke pleaded guilty to the allegation of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreed to cooperate with the American authorities in June.
The guilty plea helped Mr Okeke, who was indicted on two counts of computer and wire fraud, to secure the withdrawal of the second charge that carries lesser sentence and fines.
As part of his deal with the U.S. government, he would enjoy immunity from prosecution on the same matter in the U.S. Eastern District of Virginia. The district would also confirm the validity of the plea agreement in case Mr Okeke is charged over the same offence in another jurisdiction.
Consequently, his sentencing was initially scheduled for October 22. The conviction could see him spend 20 years behind bars with up to $250,000 in fines amongst other potential penalties.
On Monday, the U.S. court sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia, said it has reset Mr Okeke’s sentencing to February 16, 2021.
The sentencing, according to court records obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, will take place by 11 a.m in Norfolk before District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith.
Before then, Mr Okeke will be remanded in a U.S. federal prison.