A local man who was running a Koreatown-based immigration and injury law practice is facing a federal five-count felony indictment for his alleged role in a $2.1 million international bribery scheme, according to a Department of Justice news release issued Thursday.
Paulinus “Pollie” Iheanacho Okoronkwo was identified as a 67-year-old Valencia resident in a federal indictment that accused him of soliciting a $2.1 million bribe from Addax Petroleum, a company trying to obtain favorable mining rights in Nigeria, where Okoronkwo also was a citizen.
Federal prosecutors summed up the findings of their yearslong investigation into Okoronkwo’s alleged scheme in the statement announcing their indictment:
“To conceal the illegal bribery scheme, Addax falsely characterized the $2.1 million payment as a payment for legal services, lied to an auditor about the payment, and fired an executive who questioned the payment’s propriety,” the statement reads. “To create the false impression that the bribe payment constituted client funds, Okoronkwo allegedly received the payment in his law firm’s Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account, or IOLTA.”
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, according to the DOJ.
Okoronkwo, 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 Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., a state-owned company through which Nigeria’s government developed that nation’s fossil fuel and natural gas reserves, including through partnerships with foreign oil companies, the DOJ release stated.
Eight years ago, Addax Petroleum, a Switzerland-based subsidiary of Sinopec, a Chinese state-owned petroleum, gas and petrochemical conglomerate, wired a payment of $2,105,263 to an Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account 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 with respect to Addax’s drilling rights in Nigeria,” according to federal officials, who said Okoronkwo “owed a fiduciary duty to the NNPC and the Nigerian people.”
According to the indictment, Addax calculated that it stood to lose billions of dollars if its favorable drilling rights were not secured.
The engagement letter between Addax and Okoronkwo allegedly used a fake address in Lagos, Nigeria, and was a ruse intended to conceal the fact that its payment to Okoronkwo was a bribe, according to the DOJ.
Okoronkwo is 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.
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.
The DOJ’s statement also alleges Okoronkwo used $983,200 of the alleged bribe to buy a Valencia home in November 2017. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of the home on Twin Oaks Place in Valencia.
The home is listed for sale at an asking price of $2,579,000, according to Redfin. The five-bedroom, six-bath, 5,106-square-foot home overlooks the 10th fairway at The Oaks Club, according to the listing.
Okoronkwo is expected to be arraigned in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles in the coming weeks, but no date has been set yet.
The FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation are investigating this case. The Fraud Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the Office of International Affairs provided assistance.