Two fintech executives and a manager at a US-based money transfer company have been sentenced to a combined 8 years in US federal prison.
The firm, Ping Express, admitted in US district court filings that it broke money laundering rules after it transferred $167 million out of the US. One hundred and sixty million dollars of that money was sent to Nigeria over a period of 3 years, some of which were proceeds from online romance scams.
According to a statement released by US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, Chad E. Meacham, the firm admitted it failed to maintain an effective anti-money laundering programme and operated without a licence in at least 5 US states.
Ping Express CEO Anslem Oshionebo, 45, and COO Opeyemi Ode, 43, both recently received 27-month prison sentences, and the company’s business manager, Aleoghena Okhumale, received a 42-month prison sentence for intentionally transferring criminal proceeds.
According to Bloomberg, Oshionebo, a former senior manager at PwC, said in an email that he did not have the resources to continue fighting the case and “history will be the best judge”. On his part, COO Odeyale claimed the case against him had “gross violations”.
According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), Ping’s anti-money laundering policy claimed it limited first-time customer transactions to $499, daily transactions to $3,000, and monthly transactions to $4,500. The company admitted in court filings that it “allowed more than 1,500 customers to violate these rules. In one instance, Ping allowed a customer to remit more than $80,000 in a single month—17 times more than the purported limit,” read part of the statement.
Ping Express also admitted it failed to seek sufficient details about the sources or purposes of the funds it helped to transmit, or the customers initiating the transmissions. By law, the company was supposed to report any suspicious transactions to regulators. But according to the company’s court filings, it failed to make a single anti-money laundering report in 3 years of operation.
According to DoJ statements, Collins Orogun, one of Ping’s top customers and a co-defendant in the case, admitted to receiving a fee for laundering money for “romance scam” fraudsters and other criminals. Over a period of 2 years, the DoJ says he received more than $1.3 million in cash, cashier’s cheques, and wires into several US bank accounts he controlled, and then quickly moved more than $1 million of the funds to Africa through Ping.
In one incident, an Indiana woman wired $15,000 to “Carson Jacks”, a putative oil roughneck in the Gulf of Mexico she fell in love with online, after he claimed to have malaria. Another Indiana woman claimed to have fallen in love online with an Irish ship captain named “Thomas Ken” and wired him $6,300 to fix his ship. Orogun facilitated both payments through Ping.
Orogun now faces up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced on January 23, 2023.
Ping Express itself faces up to 5 years of probation and a $500,000 fine.
Ping COO Odeyale also founded a UK-registered electronic money firm, Payzen Limited, formerly Clicks FX Limited in 2013. In December 2020, about 10 months after he was formally charged by US DoJ officials for failing to maintain an effective AML programme and operating without a licence, he relinquished his controlling stake in Payzen. The UK business was not mentioned in the US case, but filings on the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) website show that Payzen also trades as Ping Express. Per Bloomberg, the current controlling shareholder of Payzen, Adekanmi Adedire, said that his company is “unrelated” to Ping Express, which is a “totally different entity”. However, Payzen’s website on the FCA’s online database is still listed as ping-express.com.