Alleged $11mn Fraud: Okeke accuses F.B.I. of illegally searching his phones, laptops


February 23, 2020

Obinwanne Okeke, the 32-year-old Nigerian arrested in the United States last August, has accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation of accessing his mobile phones and laptops illegally, a development he said was enough ground for the charges against him to be dismissed.

Mr Okeke, through his lawyers, said in a preliminary objection filed in the U.S. court in December that his phones were seized by the F.B.I. agents that arrested him and searched without proper procedure.

The lawyers said when Mr Okeke was arrested at the airport while waiting to depart for Nigeria in August 2019, federal agents asked him to unlock his iPhone and Macbook Pro without first reading him his Miranda rights. The rights involve telling a suspect under arrest they have the right to remain silent and not cooperate with authorities, especially when the suspect has not contacted a lawyer.

Mr Okeke’s lawyers, The Iweanoges Firm, said the Nigerian businessman was not told he had a right not to provide passwords to his devices to F.B.I. or other American authorities, which made him assume he had no choice but to give them the codes.

In the preliminary objection, the lawyers further argued that all evidence obtained from Mr Okeke’s phones and laptops should fall under the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ doctrine and subsequently removed from admissible evidence in court during trial.

In the December 15, 2019 filing, the Iweanoges Firm said the F.B.I. held on to Mr Okeke’s devices for more than two weeks after they arrested him and allegedly coerced him to release their passwords before obtaining a court warrant to search them.

This procedural mishap should render any evidence obtained from the devices useless, they said.

In their response, filed on January 24 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where Mr Okeke is facing two counts of computer and wire fraud, the prosecutors said the defence lawyers were being frivolous with their allegations.

They said Mr Okeke was read his Miranda rights at about 11:35 p.m. on August 6, 2016, moments after he was taken into custody at the Washington Dulles International Airport and handed over to the F.B.I. airport command.

The prosecutors said Mr Okeke was informed he could remain silent, but he willingly agreed to let authorities search his devices by providing passwords to them.

The prosecutors further argued that even if it were true that Mr Okeke was not read his Miranda rights as his lawyers claimed, the evidence collected from his phone cannot be dismissed because they only corroborated evidence already collected in the year-long investigation into his alleged involvement in the $11 million fraud.

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