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29 March 2021
The recent sentencing of Obinwanne 'Invictus' Okeke by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia demonstrated, in the words of Raj Parekh, acting US attorney for the district, the "[court'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".(1)
In addition to the 10-year jail term which Okeke received for computer and wire fraud, he was ordered, pursuant to 18 US Code Section 3663A(a)(1), to forfeit to the US government:
The proceeds of these assets will go towards providing restitution for his victims.
The implication of the consent forfeiture order appears to be that the US authorities can enforce the judgment within any jurisdiction where Obi's assets may be traced, including Nigeria. Also, any third-party interest, likely to include the Invictus Group, should be registered before the final forfeiture order is made.
The question raised by the forfeiture order, insofar as assets in Nigeria may be concerned, is how likely it is to be enforced by the US government. Following Okeke's arrest in 2019, the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the forfeiture of $618,421 and $736,843 belonging to Okeke, stated to have been located in his bank accounts with three Nigerian banks. However, these sums were ordered to be forfeited to the Nigerian government and it is unclear whether, or how, they will be paid to the US government.
Given Okeke's profile, the amount of money that he is alleged to have acquired through his criminal conduct and the fact that the Nigerian authorities were able to locate monies belonging to him in bank accounts in Nigeria, it is inconceivable that his improperly acquired assets in Nigeria are limited to what was found in the three bank accounts. If so, one question that arises is what efforts the US government will take to seek the recovery of assets in Nigeria for the benefit of US victims of Okeke's crimes. While US law enforcement agencies may claim a "worldwide reach", (Okeke was actually arrested while visiting the United States), the forfeiture order made by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has no legal effect in Nigeria. Therefore, if there are additional assets in Nigeria that can be taken and used to provide restitution to US victims, the forfeiture order in and of itself will be of limited assistance to that cause. Reliance on Nigerian law enforcement to assist in bringing in any such additional assets may also be misplaced, if previous experience is a guide. Recovery in Nigeria is not impossible. However, it would require an investment in resources other than Nigeria's law enforcement agencies, which are not equipped to take the additional steps that would be required to locate and take possession of assets which will not be as easily identified as the bank accounts.
Is the US government willing to make that investment or will it be satisfied with merely obtaining the conviction? This question is relevant given the pendency of charges in US courts against other high-profile Nigerian nationals.
For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe or Olamide Aleshinloye at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). The Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore website can be accessed at www.sooblaw.com.
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