From Grass To Grace & Back On The Grass – Once Featured On Forbes, Now In FBI Net For USD 12 Mn Fraud

By  |  August 17, 2019

In the early hours of today, social media went into overdrive with the news of the arrest of a well-known young Nigerian who was thought to have been hitting all the highs in the world of business, up until the truth about his “business” came out.

The name of this young Nigerian is Obinwanne Okeke, though he is popularly known as “InvictusObi”, and before the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) decided to take a closer look at his business, everyone thought him to be the poster boy for successful African entrepreneurs who clawed their way up from the very bottom of the pile. 

Obinwanne Okeke aka InvictusObi

His supposed rags-to-riches story had made him the toast of everyone and global media companies like Forbes and the BBC were far too willing to feature this Nigerian golden boy. Obinwanne Okeke had even given numerous TED Talks, inspiring millions who were enchanted by his unique personality and appeal. But that ship has hit the rock. The Nigerian has been nabbed for fraud in the United States and it casts a shadow of doubt over everything he claims to be.

At 31, Obinwanne was an embodiment of grass-to-grace tales; the boy who rose from nothing to something. He was even likened him to the rose that grew out of concrete being that he was the 17th child of a polygamous father who died when Obinwanne was 16.

InvictusObi giving a TED Talk In Lagos, Nigeria.

As the story goes, things became difficult for the young man, necessitating his moving from one relative to another. He later moved to Australia to study where he said he “did all kinds of jobs just to survive.” How he got the chance to travel to Australia or if he ever did is a detail that remains sketchy to this day.

Obinwanne later founded the Invictus Group of Companies, an investment conglomerate dealing in construction, agriculture, oil and gas, renewable energy, telecoms, real estate — pretty much everything.

In 2017, Invictus Group was named Africa’s Most Innovative Investment Company of the Year by African Brand Congress. That same year, the Nigerian was nominated as a Young African Business Leader (West Africa Category) for the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA). In 2018, he was nominated amongst 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians by Avance Media.

It was, however, in the year 2016, that he became something of a hit on a continental-scale. That year, he was named in the Forbes Africa’s 30 Under-30 list and he also went on to feature on the cover of the magazine’s June issue.

In the prologue to the 30 under-30 piece for 2016, the magazine wrote, “FORBES AFRICA spent months looking for the best this continent has to offer. Research coupled with nominations from our readers brought the number to 250 potential Under-30s. We worked for weeks, verifying and investigating, to whittle it down. We favoured entrepreneurs with fresh ideas and took into account their business size, location, potential, struggles and determination. A panel of judges then debated the final 30.”

At the end of it all, Obinwanne Okeke was chosen as some sort of valedictorian over 600 of the brightest young entrepreneurs, breakout talents and change agents in 20 different sectors that made the list. His image was featured on the cover of that particular edition.

But Forbes will want to get as far away from him as possible at this point in time as the FBI has identified him as the prime suspect in a fraud case and the evidence is strong.

After a year-long investigation led by Special Agent Marshall Ward of the FBI, Obinwanne has been fingered and subsequently arrested for wire fraud valued at over USD 12 Mn.

Per excerpts from an affidavit reportedly sworn to the FBI Special Agent; “In June 2018, Unatrac Holding Limited, the export sales office for Caterpillar heavy industrial and farm equipment, headquartered in the United Kingdom, contacted the FBI. They reported that Unatrac had been victimised through an email compromise, which ultimately resulted in fraudulent wire transfers totalling nearly 11million US Dollars.”

The statement went on; “After reviewing the documentation provided by the representatives, the FBI opened an investigation in July 2018.” 

The FBI’s findings have it that after capturing the legitimate credentials of Unatrac’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), the accused was able to log in and access the CFO’s entire Office365 account, which included all of his emails and various digital files. The logs suggested that between April 6 and April 20, 2018, the intruder accessed the CFO’s account 464 times, mostly from an Internet Protocol (IP) address that can be traced to Nigeria.

Armed with unrestricted access to the account, Obinwanne allegedly sent fraudulent wire transfer requests from the CFO’s email account to members of Unatrac’s internal financial team. The investigator also stated that the accused attached fake invoices to the emails to enhance the credibility of the requests.

The FBI’s investigation lasted more than a year and after a deep dive into the matter, Obinwanne Okeke during emerged as the principal culprit. Reports have it that he has since been arrested while on his regular visit to the United States and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the story unfolds.

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