LIAT 2020 Nigerian investor wanted in US for bank fraud

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne, second left, and Allen Onyema, the chairman of Air Peace, with their spouses at a business forum/dinner on May 3 at the Delborough Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. Nigeria. – Photo courtesy Air Peace

COULD the new LIAT have its wings clipped before take off?

Speaking on the Browne and Browne show on February 17, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said regional shareholder governments of the now-defunct LIAT and the Caribbean Development Bank have agreed to the sale of three aircraft to the newly-formed LIAT 2020, paving the way for the launch of the new inter-regional airline, retired director general of civil aviation at Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority and Newsday columnist Ramesh Lutchmedial said in February.

Browne said his government will pay US$20.1 million to acquire and operationalise the aircraft.

He announced that the new airline is being formed in partnership with a private Nigerian airline founded in 2013 called Air Peace.

Air Peace will invest US$60 million into LIAT 2020 and, as the largest shareholder, will operate the new airline, Browne said.

Browne said approximately EC$200 million (EC$1 = US$0.37 cents) will be spent to improve air connectivity and strengthen the regional integration movement.

However, LIAT 2020 must comply with the regulatory requirements for the grant of an air operators certificate (AOC) by the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA).

Under Antigua and Barbuda’s laws, ECCA has to be satisfied that an applicant for an AOC is an Antigua and Barbuda citizen.

In 2023, it was announced that Allen Onyema, the founder of Air Peace, had obtained Antigua and Barbuda citizenship under the country’s Citizenship by Investment Programme.

But last week British media reports targeted Onyema after he was among a small group of officials who greeted Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle when they touched down in to Lagos, Nigeria, on May 12.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex travelled on Air Peace on their three-day tour of the country.

The New York Post said on May 18, “The charismatic businessman is well-known in Nigeria, but is the subject of a US federal indictment filed back in November 2019.

“At the time, the US Department of Justice released a statement saying Onyema was ‘charged with bank fraud and money laundering for moving more than (US)$20 million from Nigeria through US bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.'”

Browne is moving forward with his plans for LIAT 2020. On May, 4 he attended a business forum at Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.

On its Instagram account, Air Peace posted pictures of Browne and Onyema saying Browne used the opportunity to woo Nigeria’s business community to come and invest in his country.

“It was a strategic avenue for both Nigerian and Antiguan governments to also discuss opportunities for mutual development gains,” it said.