Nigeria: Obinwanne Okeke Appeals Against 10-Year Sentence

Obinwanne Okeke is the founder of Invictus Group.
27 February 2021

Mr Okeke, who had waived his right of appeal in his plea agreement with the U.S. authorities, makes a dramatic u-turn.

Wire fraud convict, Obinwanne Okeke, widely known as Invictus Obi, has appealed against his recent sentence to10 years' imprisonment by a U.S. court.

The 33-year-old Nigerian, who was arrested in the U.S. on August 6, 2019, pleaded guilty to the offence of conspiracy to commit wire fraud last year June.

U.S. authorities said victims lost nearly $11 million (about N4 billion) to the large-scale fraud perpetrated through global business email and computer hacking schemes between 2015 and 2019.

Mr Okeke, formerly celebrated internationally as a successful young African entrepreneur, was sentenced to 120 months' imprisonment by a court in the Eastern District of Virginia on February 16.

PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported how the judge, Rebecca Smith, also ordered him to restitute about $10.7 million proceeds of his fraud to the U.S. government.

The minutes of the sentencing proceedings seen by PREMIUM TIMES indicated that Mr Okeke was notified of his right of appeal, but waived it in his plea agreement with U.S. authorities.

Volte-face

PREMIUM TIMES has confirmed that the convict filed his notice of appeal against the sentence on Tuesday.

This newspaper on Friday obtained a copy of his notice of appeal and other accompanying documents filed at the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Virginia.

In the notice of appeal, Mr Okeke noted that he "entered a guilty plea to Count One and was sentenced to 10 years as to Count One of the indictment by Judge Rebecca Beach Smith".

"I, the above-named appellant, hereby appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit from the above-stated sentence," he added.

The grounds of appeal are not disclosed in the notice, but he is likely going to be arguing that the sentence imposed along with restitution and forfeiture orders issued against him was excessive.

PREMIUM TIMES recalls that the convict, his relatives, and other associates, had in a pre-sentencing filing, pleaded with the judge for leniency.

He also kicked against making restitution, with his lawyer, John Iweanoge, arguing that Unatrac, one of the fraud victims, had already recovered approximately $2.5 million.

But despite his initial opposition to restitution, he and his lawyer signed in agreement to the restitution order issued by the judge on the day of his sentencing.

The judge and the Acting U.S. Attorney, Raj Parekh, who prosecuted him, also signed the restitution order.

Service of appeal

In the 'Certificate of Service' accompanying the notice of appeal, the convict stated that he "electronically filed the foregoing with the Clerk of Court using the CM/ECF system" on February 23, and "will then send a notification of such filing (NEF) to all interested parties and attorneys."

A notice of the Court of Appeals issued on February 25 assigned case number 21-4075 to the appeal and declared it "open".

It also designated Cathy Poulsen as the case manager.

Backstory

Mr Okeke was celebrated by Forbes African magazine as one of the 30 under-30 successful entrepreneurs on the continent in 2016 when he was only 28.

He operated his Invictus Group which he claimed had investments in oil and gas, real estate, agriculture, among others in Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operatives arrested him on August 6, 2019, on a criminal complaint about computer and wire fraud to defraud Unatrac Holding Limited, which has its headquarters in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

He was arrested at Dulles International Airport, Virginia, as he prepared to depart the U.S. after a visit to witness the birth of his 20-month-old daughter born on July 15, 2019.

The entrepreneur, who holds a masters degree in International Business and Counter-terrorism from Monash University, Australia, was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit computer fraud.

He initially denied the charges, but later entered into a plea bargain agreement with the U.S authorities and pleaded guilty to Count 1 on June 18, 2020.

The second count of computer fraud, with a lesser penalty, was dropped as part of the plea agreement.

The judge, Ms Smith, sentenced him to 10 years' imprisonment on February 16 and issued restitution and forfeiture orders against him.

The judge also ordered him to undergo three years of supervised release after completing his jail term.

He is prohibited from taking up jobs that grant access to money and bank accounts or hold positions involving investments if he will undergo supervised release in the U.S.

Mr Okeke, who had spent 19 months in detention from the time of his arrest in August 2019 till February 16 when he was sentenced, is now serving his jail term at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, Suffolk, in Virginia.

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