THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has confirmed that it is investigating the publisher of a Nigerian online newspaper, Peoples Gazette, Samuel Ogundipe, for allegedly blackmailing the chairman of Air Peace airlines, Allen Onyema.
The ICIR also confirmed from the commission that the Peoples Gazette’s accountant, Oluwafisayo Fadesire, was detained in June by the agency’s operatives over allegations of extortion and blackmail.
An online newspaper, Newsdiary online, had first broken the news of Ogundipe’s alleged blackmail of the Air Peace boss last week, an accusation that the journalist denied to several media houses, including The ICIR.
Although the Chairman of the EFCC Abdulrasheed Bawa, would not speak on the matter when contacted during the week, insisting that it was not his style to conduct media trials, sources close to the investigation at the anti-graft agency’s Lagos office confirmed that Peoples Gazette’s accountant, identified as Oluwafisayo Fadesire, was arrested and detained while trying to represent her publisher, Ogundipe, at a meeting in Ikeja GRA office of the Air Peace chairman.
She was at the meeting to receive the sum of $30,000 in cash, which she told investigators that Ogundipe had instructed her to collect.
Insider sources at the EFCC who spoke to our reporter in Lagos during the week said that the agency’s investigations showed that Ogundipe had obtained a document indicting Onyema of financial crime and had offered to trade the information for a sum of $300,000.
Prior to the saga, Peoples Gazette had secured a front-page banner advert from Air Peace.
The ICIR findings show that the advert was placed on the news website for several months before the relationship between Allen and Ogundipe turned sour.
Wayback Machine, a platform that archives web pages, revealed that the advert stopped running on the Peoples Gazette website in late June.
Onyema had been accused of some financial misappropriations in the past and Ogundipe reported the saga while working at the PREMIUM TIMES as Breaking News Editor.
In 2019, the Air Peace Chairman was indicted in the United States for bank fraud and money laundering.
The Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Georgia, charged him with bank fraud and money laundering for moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of aeroplanes.
Although Onyema denied the allegation, The ICIR gathered that he was also allegedly involved in another shady deal, to which Ogundipe was privy. It was alleged that the journalist asked to be paid $300,000 to keep quiet about the scandal.
But unknown to Ogundipe, Onyema had reported the alleged blackmail to the Lagos EFCC on June 2. The EFCC then asked Onyema to play along and to tell Ogundipe to come over to the Air Peace office at GRA, Ikeja, to collect the first tranche of the money.
The Air Peace chief immediately did so. But Ogundipe replied that he was in Dubai and instructed Fadesire to go to the Air Peace office in Ikeja GRA the same day to pick the money.
The Peoples Gazette Editor had travelled outside Nigeria since November 2020, The ICIR learnt.
Giving details about the sting operation that led to Fadesire’s arrest, our EFCC sources said the agency’s operatives arranged marked $30,000 for Onyema to hand over to the Ogundipe’s representative.
It was gathered that Onyema had agreed to pay the first tranche of $30,000 on the faithful day consequent upon which Ogundipe instructed Fadesire to go and collect it.
According to the sources, after she was arrested, the young lady told her interrogators that Ogundipe told her to take $10,000 from the amount for herself and give a Bureau De Change dealer in Abuja the remaining $20,000.
The EFCC later picked up the BDC dealer, Meiruno, who admitted he had gotten instruction from Ogundipe to await the collection of the money from Fadesire and wait for further instruction on what to do with it.
The EFCC arrested Fadesire and took her into custody for questioning. She insisted she was only acting on a directive from her employer and knew nothing about the alleged blackmail.
The ICIR learnt Fadesire’s father visited her daughter at the EFCC office many times to arrange bail through her lawyer, Iborobasi Etim.
It was also learnt that Mr Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, also called the EFCC office in respect of the matter. The ICIR sent a message to Mr. Falana for confirmation, but he has not responded as at the time of filing this report.
The lady was released on June 9 since the principal suspect, Ogundipe is outside Nigeria. The ICIR called her number several times, but it did not connect.
Fadesire, who doubled as Accounting Officer at Peoples Gazette, joined Peoples Gazette in September 2020.
Meanwhile, Ogundipe had confirmed to The ICIR the arrest of his staff by the EFCC but denied that it had anything to do with blackmailing the Air Peace chairman. He also denied being wanted by the EFCC and the Department of State Security Service.
He said the accountant in his office was arrested in Onyema’s office on mistaken identity. According to Ogundipe’s story, it was an NGO that approached him with damning information about Onyema that was supposed to receive a gift from the Air Peace boss in exchange for keeping quiet about the allegation in its possession. He said his staff went to collect the gift only because the NGO could not make it to Onyema’s office for the appointment.
The ICIR called and sent messages to Onyema several times for comment; he did not respond to any of the messages sent to his number.