US fintech Nigerian executives jailed over $160m money laundering scam

PING Express, a Texas-based remittance company with ties to the United Kingdom (UK), has pleaded guilty in the United States (US) to money laundering after sending over $160 million to Nigeria in suspicious transactions over a period of three years.

According to a statement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the fintech company admitted it failed to seek sufficient details about the sources or purposes of the funds involved in the transactions or the customers initiating the transmissions.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ping Express, Anslem Oshionebo, and the firm’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Opeyemi Odeyale, were both handed a 27-month prison sentence for their involvement, according to US legal filings.

The firm’s IT/Business Development Manager received a prison sentence of 42 months.

According to the DOJ statement, three individuals – including two of Ping Express’s top customers – previously pleaded guilty to transmitting illegally-derived funds through the company.

“Collins Orogun admitted last week that he accepted a fee in exchange for transferring money for ‘romance scam’ fraudsters and other criminals.

“In one instance, an Indiana woman sent $15,000 to ‘Carson Jacks’, a purported oil roughneck in the Gulf of Mexico she fell in love with online, after he told her he’d contracted malaria. In another, a second Indiana woman sent $6,300 to ‘Thomas Ken,” a purported Irish ship captain she fell in love with online, to fix his ship.

“In two years, Orogun received more than $1.3 million in cash, cashier’s checks, and wires into several US bank accounts he controlled and then quickly moved more than $1 million of the funds to Africa through Ping Express.

“He faces up to 20 years in federal prison and is set to be sentenced on Jan. 23, 2023,” the statement said.

Ping Express was licensed to transmit money but was not licensed to conduct currency exchange and charged US customers a fee to remit money to beneficiaries in Nigeria and other African nations.

By law, Ping Express was required to report any suspicious transactions to regulators.




     

     

    In plea papers, the company admitted that it failed to file a single report over three years, despite a significant amount of suspicious customer activity.

    Ping Express also admitted that it conducted money transmission business in states where it was not licensed, including Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, West Virginia and Connecticut.

    The company claimed to have software that could detect and deter transmissions initiated in “unlicensed” states, but it admitted that the programme did not function.

    In its summaries to state regulators, Ping Express included a column labelled “IP Location” but only recorded states in which it was properly licensed: Texas, Maryland, Georgia, Washington and Washington DC.

    Ping Express, the company, now faces five years of probation and a fine of up to $500,000.

    Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

    Join the ICIR WhatsApp channel for in-depth reports on the economy, politics and governance, and investigative reports.

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