Sunday, October 25, 2020

U.S prosecutors to charge Nigerian Instagram celebrity “Hushpuppi” with money laundering, cybercrime

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A Dubai resident who flaunted his extravagant lifestyle on social media is expected to be transferred to Los Angeles in the coming weeks to face money laundering charges, officials said Friday.

Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, 37, aka “Ray Hushpuppi” and “Hush,” a Nigerian national, arrived in Chicago on Thursday evening and made his initial U.S. court appearance Friday in Chicago after being expelled from the United Arab Emirates, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Abbas was ordered held without bond until the next hearing in Chicago on July 7. He will not be asked to enter a plea until he gets to Los Angeles, according to Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Central District of California.

He is accused of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from business email compromise frauds and other scams, including schemes targeting a U.S. law firm, a foreign bank and an English Premier League soccer club.

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It was unclear Friday if Abbas had retained an attorney or was using a lawyer from the Chicago Public Defender’s Office.

Abbas was arrested last month by UAE law enforcement officials. FBI special agents earlier this week obtained custody of Abbas and brought him to the United States to face a charge of conspiring to engage in money laundering that is alleged in a criminal complaint filed on June 25 by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles.

According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, Abbas maintains social media accounts that frequently showed him in designer clothes, wearing expensive watches, and posing in or with luxury cars and charter jets.

“The FBI’s investigation has revealed that Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime, and that he is one of the leaders of a transnational network that facilitates computer intrusions, fraudulent schemes (including BEC schemes), and money laundering, targeting victims around the world in schemes designed to steal hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to the affidavit.

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The affidavit describes BEC schemes as often involving a computer hacker gaining unauthorized access to a business’ email account, blocking or redirecting communications to and/or from that email account, and then using the compromised email account or a separate fraudulent email account to communicate with personnel from a victim company and to attempt to trick them into making an unauthorized wire transfer.

“BEC schemes are one of the most difficult cybercrimes we encounter as they typically involve a coordinated group of con artists scattered around the world who have experience with computer hacking and exploiting the international financial system,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. “This case targets a key player in a large, transnational conspiracy who was living an opulent lifestyle in another country while allegedly providing safe havens for stolen money around the world. As this case demonstrates, my office will continue to hold such criminals accountable, no matter where they live.”

“In 2019 alone, the FBI recorded $1.7 billion in losses by companies and individuals victimized through business email compromise scams, the type of scheme Mr. Abbas is charged with conducting from abroad,” said Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

“While this arrest has effectively taken a major alleged BEC player offline, BEC scams represent the most financially costly type of scheme reported to the FBI. I urge anyone who transfers funds personally or on behalf of a company to educate themselves about BEC so they can identify this insidious scheme before losing sizable amounts of money.”

“This was a challenging case, one that spanned international boundaries, traditional financial systems and the digital sphere,” said Jesse Baker, special agent in charge of the United States Secret Service’ Los Angeles field office.

“Technology has essentially erased geographic boundaries leaving trans-national criminal syndicates to believe that they are beyond the reach of law enforcement.”

The affidavit also alleges that Abbas conspired to launder funds stolen in a $14.7 million cyber-heist from a foreign financial institution in February 2019. Abbas and others are further accused of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from other fraudulent schemes and computer intrusions, including one scheme to steal about $124 million from an English Premier League soccer club.

If convicted of conspiracy to engage in money laundering, Abbas would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

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