Nigerian lawyer Charged To Court by FBI for Money Laundering, Obstructing Probe of $2.1 Million Bribe from Swiss Oil Company

A Nigerian lawyer has been charged by the FBI with multiple felonies arising from an alleged $2.1 million bribe, which he received while serving as an officer at Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. (NNPC) in connection with negotiating favourable drilling rights for a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned oil company.

The man identified as Paulinus Okoronkwo, of Valencia, who practices immigration and personal injury law out of an office in Koreatown, was charged in a five-count indictment.

Okoronkwo is also been charged with three counts of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity, one count of tax evasion, and one count of obstruction of justice.

According to the indictment, the 67-year-old, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Nigeria, was a foreign official who served as the general manager of the upstream division of the NNPC.

In this role, Okoronkwo owed a fiduciary duty to the NNPC

In October 2015, Addax Petroleum, a Switzerland-based subsidiary of Sinopec, Chinese state-owned petroleum, gas, and petrochemical conglomerate, wired a payment of $2,105,263 to an Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA) in the name of Okoronkwo’s Los Angeles law firm, purportedly for his work as a consultant who negotiated and completed a settlement agreement with the NNPC concerning Addax’s drilling rights in Nigeria.

According to the indictment, Addax calculated that it stood to lose billions of dollars if its favourable drilling rights were not secured.

The engagement letter that Addax signed that month with Okoronkwo’s law office – with a fake address in Lagos, Nigeria – allegedly was a ruse intended to conceal the fact that its payment to Okoronkwo was a bribe in exchange for his influence in securing more favourable financial terms relating to its crude oil drilling in Nigeria.

Also In November 2017, Okoronkwo allegedly used $983,200 of the illegally obtained funds to purchase a house in Valencia.

In addition to money laundering, Okoronkwo is charged with tax evasion for allegedly omitting the $2.1 million bribe payment from his 2015 federal income tax return. He is also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to investigators when interviewed in June 2022.

If convicted of all charges, Okoronkwo would face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for each money laundering count, 10 years in federal prison for the obstruction of justice count, and five years in federal prison for the tax evasion count.