The operators of a Texan payments firm with ties to the UK pleaded guilty in the US to money laundering failures after their business facilitated the shipping of $160 million to Nigeria over about three years.
Anslem Oshionebo, 45, and Opeyemi Odeyale, 43, received 27-month prison sentences for failing to maintain effective anti-money laundering controls and unlicensed money transmitting, according to US legal filings. The Dallas-based company they owned and operated — Ping Express US LLC — faces five years of probation and a fine as high as $500,000 after pleading guilty to a similar charge, while another executive received a 42-month sentence, the Department of Justice said in a July 7 statement.
Ping Express sent customers’ remittances to Nigeria, Kenya and other African nations. In one three-year period highlighted by the DoJ, the firm failed to flag a single suspicious transaction to regulators despite processing a “significant amount” of them, though it filed a batch of reports later.
One customer used the firm to move funds they made from fake-romance scams, with victims including a woman in Indiana who sent $15,000 to a supposed roughneck oil worker in the Gulf of Mexico, and another who sent $6,300 to a purported Irish sea captain, according to the DoJ’s statement. Another customer moved more than $80,000 in a single month, far more than the company’s $4,500 limit, court filings show.
“Having gone through a very painful three years of legal battle with a monstrous US DoJ, it was time to give in and move on,” Odeyale said in an emailed statement that claimed the case against him had “gross violations,” while he cited his track record with other businesses. “There is a lot of good I can do with the next two to three years than waste it in fighting an insurmountable foe.”
Oshionebo said in an email that “history will be the best judge” but he did not have the resources to continue fighting the case.
Odeyale also founded and controlled Payzen Ltd., a London-based payments company where Oshionebo has also been a shareholder. The UK Financial Conduct Authority granted Payzen approval to operate in January 2020, two months before federal prosecutors for the Northern District of Texas charged the two men and a number of others with money-laundering crimes, according to US and UK filings. The British business wasn’t mentioned in the US case and hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing.
Odeyale ceased to be a controlling shareholder of Payzen in December 2020. The company is today controlled by Adekanmi Adedire, filings at Companies House show. In a LinkedIn message, Adedire said that Payzen is “unrelated” to Ping Express, which is a “totally different entity.”
Payzen still holds an active license as a payments company, with its website listed as ping-express.com, the FCA’s website shows. Ruth Wharram, a spokeswoman for the regulator in London, said she was unable to comment on an individual case. The watchdog takes “all relevant information into account in our supervision of firms,” she added.
The British financial-technology scene has come under scrutiny amid fears that its weak controls are enabling the movement of illicit funds around the world. Transparency International UK has called for tougher supervision after finding that more than one-third of UK-licensed electronic-money institutions show red flags.
– By Donal Griffin (Bloomberg)