An American criminal defence lawyer, Rahul Sharma has been appointed as the lead counsel to Obinwanne Okeke, a Nigerian ‘businessman’ who was recently arrested for alleged $11 million fraud.
Mr. Sharma, an attorney with the United States Federal Public Defender in Eastern District of Virginia, was asked to represent Mr. Okeke by Theresa Buchanan, the magistrate handling the case.
Ms Buchanan made the order after Okeke failed to appear with a lawyer when he was first arraigned on August 7 on two counts of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Mr Okeke, known in Nigeria as ‘Invictus Obi’, was arrested on August 6 in Alexandria, Virginia, on the same day he was slated to return to Nigeria. The arrest was based on a court warrant executed by Marshall Ward, an F.B.I. special agent who led the investigation of Okeke.
He had travelled to the U.S. apparently without a prior knowledge that he was being investigated by the F.B.I. and settled in Alexandria, Virginia, about 13 kilometres south of Washington D.C.
The F.B.I. had in June 2018 received complaints from Unatrac, an international subsidiary of heavy equipment manufacturer, Caterpillar, that Okeke gained unauthorised access to the e-mail account of its chief financial officer and authorised a series of fictitious invoices to the tune of $11 million.
The F.B.I. also found that Mr. Okeke had duped an American shoe manufacturer and used several e-mail accounts which have previously been linked to fraudulent activities online and flagged in the F.B.I. database.
An 11-page affidavit detailing how Okeke was identified as the culprit and why he should be immediately arrested and charged was published on U.S. government websites earlier this month.
His arrest has sparked online frenzy and added to a growing cases of Nigerians being arrested for illegal online activities in Western countries. The anti-graft EFCC has also intensified a clampdown on advance fee fraudsters in Nigeria, chargings dozens of suspects this year alone.
Okeke was remanded in custody pending the conclusion of preliminary hearings into his case. Mr Sharma is expected to begin appearances for him at his next hearing.