I didn’t commit fraud on American soil, Obinwanne Okeke tells court

Obinwanne-Okeke.
Obinwanne Okeke

Obinwanne Okeke, the 32-year-old Nigerian arrested in the United States last August, has argued that American authorities lacked jurisdiction to charge him for fraud, court documents show.

Mr Okeke, through his lawyers, said in a preliminary objection filed in the U.S. court that he did not commit the offence he was being accused of in America, and no American companies or individuals were swindled at the material time of his indictment.

Mr Okeke’s argument was filed in December 2019, four months after he was arrested at the airport by federal agents while trying to board a flight back to Nigeria following a visit on August 6. He was later indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of wire and computer fraud that contravened American laws.

A judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where Mr Okeke was charged, had fixed trial for February 18, but his lawyers, The Iweanoges Firm, argued that the case should be dismissed on jurisdiction grounds.

The lawyers argued that Mr Okeke’s arrest should not have happened because he did not commit the offence on American soil and nothing in the indictment prepared by the prosecutors indicated that any American was defrauded by Mr Okeke.

The lawyers said the prosecutors only stated in the indictment that Mr Okeke swindled Unatrac, a subsidiary of American equipment manufacturer, Caterpillar, of $11 million dollars.

READ ALSO: Jury indicts Obinwanne Okeke, may forfeit $11 million, diamond ring

But since the alleged offence was not committed in the U.S. or against any American company or individual, then the F.B.I. should not have gotten involved, the lawyers argued citing multiple previous authorities to back their argument.

Allegedly through a fraudulent scheme tagged business email compromise, Mr Okeke defrauded the United Kingdom office of Unatrac in a series of spoof emails over several months. Unatrac headquarters is in the United Arab Emirates, but the company, through Caterpillar, filed complaints with the F.B.I., alleging a loss of over $11 million to online scammers.

The F.B.I. then began investigating the case, eventually linking it to Mr Okeke, a 32-year-old Nigerian entrepreneur widely known as ‘Invictus Obi’ in Abuja and other parts of Nigeria, court documents said.

In their response, the prosecutors asked the judge to dismiss the defence lawyers’ argument, saying Mr Okeke had travelled to the U.S. in the course of the fraud.

The prosecutors also said Mr Okeke’s lawyers were wrong to argue that no American companies or individuals were scammed on the basis of the indictment, saying the indictment was only to show probable cause to secure an arrest warrant for Mr Okeke.

They said additional evidence would be introduced in the course of the trial, which may include more victims of American citizenship and residency.

The defence and prosecution later agreed to adjourn commencement of trial from February 18 until a date that would later be determined by both parties. The court granted the request, but said Mr Okeke, who had been on remand since his arrest on August 6, would remain in detention until the commencement of trial when his lawyers would be able to apply for his bail.

DOWNLOAD: Obinwanne Okeke’s jurisdiction challenge (PDF)
DOWNLOAD: U.S. prosecutors response to Obinwanne Okeke’s jurisdiction challenge (PDF)
DOWNLOAD: U.S. prosecutors response to Obinwanne Okeke’s suppression of evidence argument(PDF)
DOWNLOAD:  U.S. prosecutors response to Obinwanne Okeke’s suppression of evidence argument (PDF)


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