Sandton entrepreneur arrested on $11-million fraud charge

Nigerian businessman Obinwanne Okeke, who has called South Africa his second home, has been arrested by the FBI in the United States on charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Okeke received a lot of press — in South Africa and Nigeria — when he made the Forbes 30 under 30 list and appeared on the cover of Forbes Africa magazine.

According to Forbes’ profile of Okeke for its 30 under 30 article, he named his company Invictus Group after a poem by William Ernest Henley because it was one of Nelson Mandela’s favourites.

This, and the fact that Okeke was resident in Sandton at the time of the list’s publication, led to headlines like Sandton entrepreneur makes Forbes Africa list.

“This is the most important list of the year for Forbes Africa. If one young African reads it and is inspired enough to start a business it has done its job. Entrepreneurs like Obinwanne are proof that there is hope for Africa,” the former Forbes Africa managing editor, Chris Bishop, was quoted as saying at the time.

At the time the list was published, Forbes reported that Invictus employed 28 permanent and 100 part-time employees across nine companies. Invictus had interests in construction, agriculture, oil and gas, telecommunications, and real estate.

MyBroadband tried to reach Invictus for comment, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.

In an interview with Veronique Edwards at BBC News Africa (embedded below), Okeke said that after completing his studies in South Africa and Australia, he decided to return to Nigeria.

Monash University

Okeke completed his education through Monash University. He has a B.A. in Global Studies and Forensic Criminology, which he did between 2008 and 2011 in South Africa. He claims to have continued his studies in Australia from 2012 to 2013, where he achieved a distinction in his M.A. in International Relations and Counter-Terrorism.

MyBroadband contacted Monash University (now IIE MSA) in South Africa to verify these claims.

They confirmed that Okeke studied and completed his B.A in Forensic Criminology at Monash in South Africa. They directed questions regarding his masters degree to Monash Australia.

Monash Australia was not immediately able to comment.

After finishing his master’s degree, Okeke said he returned to his home country of Nigeria, instead of South Africa, because he believed he would have better prospects.

“When I was done [with my Masters degree in Australia], I thought to myself, what is my career progression in South Africa compared to Nigeria?” Okeke told Edwards from BBC News Africa.

“Nigeria is home country for me. South Africa has always been [my] second home, but I said I’d rather go home where I have equal rights, equal opportunities to do what I need to do. Going back to Nigeria… I never regretted it.”

Obinwanne Okeke

FBI conspiracy charges and arrest

Reports of Okeke’s arrest began to emerge over the weekend, and were confirmed in a post by the Director of Research in Computer Forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Gary Warner.

According to publicly available court documents, Okeke was arrested in Dulles, Virginia on 6 August, likely as he was preparing to board a plane out of the United States at Washington Dulles International Airport.

The FBI affidavit submitted to support the arrest order for Okeke links him to an incident from June 2018 where Unatrac Holding Limited was scammed to the tune of $11 million.

Unatrac is the export sales office for Caterpillar farming and heavy industrial equipment. Although headquartered in the UK, it contacted the FBI regarding the alleged fraud.

The scam was perpetrated by gaining access to the Office365 account of Unatrac’s CFO through a phishing e-mail.

According to the affidavit, the CFO opened the phishing e-mail around 1 April and clicked on a link that took him to a page designed to look like the legitimate Office365 logon page.

Over the course of several weeks, the attacker accessed the account and created e-mail filter rules to hide e-mails from the CFO that might have tipped them off to the suspicious activity on their account. The rules intercepted e-mails from the company’s financial team to the CFO, marked them as read, and moved them to a folder so they didn’t appear in the inbox.

With access to the CFO’s Office365 account, the attacker also obtained Unatrac invoice templates, which were used to generate fake invoices in the name of “Pak Fei Trade Limited”.

On 7 November 2018, the FBI was able to serve a federal search warrant on Google, and found that the Gmail address used to perpetrate the attack on Unatrac was used in several other phishing attacks and scams.

Google’s records also showed that the Gmail address was linked to several other accounts. In particular, it shared a login session cookie with an address that the FBI was able to connect with Okeke.

The Twitter and Instagram accounts which the documents state conclusively connect Okeke to the Gmail address ([email protected]) have all been removed, except for his old Nairaland profile. The “iNVICTUSobi” profile at Nairaland does not appear to have posted since January 2016.

According to copies of court documents posted online, Okeke’s detention hearing was set for 7 August 2019, where he was remanded to the custody of US Marshals. He was next set to appear in court on 9 August.

Okeke later appeared before a court for a preliminary hearing, represented by John Iweanoge, where a document states that he did not contest detention.

Proceedings will continue before the grand jury. The purpose of the grand jury in states like Virginia is to determine whether criminal charges will be brought against the accused.

Now read: Nigerian cybercrime crooks caught in South Africa, convicted by US court

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Sandton entrepreneur arrested on $11-million fraud charge