Friday, October 30, 2020

Nigerian “Billionaire Gucci Master” Hushpuppi denied bail in money laundering, fraud case

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Nigerian influencer Ramon Abbas, known online as “hushpuppi” and “The Billionaire Gucci Master” was denied bail and told by a judge on Monday in Chicago that he will remain detained until his trial later this year over money laundering allegations.

Appearing at a detention hearing, a court in the Northern District of Illinois ruled that Abbas will be transported to Los Angeles by the U.S. Marshals Service, and will not be allowed to stay with his girlfriend’s uncle in Homewood, Illinois. His trial is slated to be held in Los Angeles where the case was filed, rather from Chicago where the investigation is being handled.

Throughout the hearing Abbas’ lawyer denied that his client was a flight risk or a danger to the community, repeatedly rejecting the allegations made against his client by the FBI’s affidavit posted earlier this month. The primary allegation leveled by the FBI is that Abbas was part of a network that made “hundreds of millions of dollars” from business email compromise frauds and other scams.

Assistant United States Attorney Melody Wells, a prosecutor in the Chicago district attorney’s office, convinced the court that Abbas is a flight risk, describing his “significant” financial assets, “deep ties to foreign countries” and a lack of ties to the United States. Wells said Abbas had the “perfect recipe to flee the charges that he faces here.”

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Abbas has sought to live with a girlfriend’s relative in Illinois, but this was queried by the prosecutor, arguing that Mr. Abbas had up to this point “never visited” the girlfriend or their child in the United States. “There is no evidence that he has ever even met this ‘uncle,’ who would be the third-party custodian under these circumstances,” Wells said.

The court ruled that there was “more than enough justification to order that the U.S. Marshall bring [Abbas] to California as soon as possible to answer the complaint there.” Ruling that Abbas had “a great incentive not to continue to respond to these proceedings here,” as he is “facing a long sentence.”

The court acknowledged risks that in addition to holding passports to other countries (Saint Kitts and Nevis), Abbas has “access to large amounts of money” described by the court as “not chump change.” Adding, “The fact that you project a wealthy lifestyle . . . you gotta be doing something right to pay $10,000 a month for an apartment in Dubai . . . you have access to some real cash.”

Forbes does not currently and has never included Abbas on its list of the World’s Billionaires. The nickname “The Billionaire Gucci Master!!!” is not a title given to Abbas by Forbes, but rather a Snapchat contact name detailed in the FBI’s affidavit.

Loved & Respected

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Ramon Abbas is a Nigerian influencer with over 2.5 million followers on Instagram. Known to his fans as hushpuppi, Abbas has built a global following from posting pictures of his lavish spending on cars, watches, designer clothes and private jets. However, in late June  the 37-year-old was arrested in Dubai and arrived in the U.S. on July 3 to face criminal charges over allegations he has made “hundreds of millions of dollars” from business email compromise frauds and other scams.

Last week Abbas’ lawyer Gal Pissetzky told Forbes that his client is “absolutely not guilty of [the] charges they are accusing him of,” describing Abbas as “an entrepreneur” who made his money legitimately through “real estate” and his work “promoting brands” as an “Instagram personality.”

At the hearing Pissetzky told the court that his client posed no flight risk because of the damage it would do to his credibility online, adding, “He is loved and respected. He is a celebrity. He would not want to ruin his credibility and status rather than stay here and face these allegations.”

Adding support to the claim that Abbas pays for his lifestyle through promoting designer products on social media, Pissetzky argued: “Mr Abbas is an Instagram personality. A social media personality. Of course he poses with high-price items because that’s what he gets paid to do. That’s what he has built from growing up very poor in Nigeria, he was able to develop himself into this very well-known personality with millions of followers on Instagram. He is an influencer—that is what my kids would call him—an influencer. And people seeing him with these Louis Vuitton bags or clothes, or Gucci bags and clothes, or these fancy cars, and they go and want it. They wanna buy it. That’s a job today. As much as it’s hard to imagine—that’s a full-time job.”

Pissetzky made no mention of the claim on the hushpuppi Instagram feed that Abbas works as a “real estate developer.”

Pissetzky argued that the social media images of Abbas’ lifestyle are being used as greater implied evidence of wrongdoing, rather than the actual evidence of wrongdoing presented by the FBI in the affidavit. On the staggering sums Abbas is accused of laundering in the FBI’s allegations, his lawyer says, “[Abbas] does not have millions of dollars and his bank accounts will confirm he does not have that [amount of money].” He added, “He has not had any money seized from him. Yes, he lived in a nice apartment in Dubai. [But that] doesn’t mean that he’s a criminal. He did not hack anyone. He did not steal information from anyone.”

The case continues.

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