Alleged Cyber-Godfather Hushpuppi Arrives in US
A Nigerian Instagram influencer has made his first court appearance in the US on charges alleging that he laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit proceeds from email scams and other cyber-enabled fraud, including a scheme that targeted an English Premier League football club.
A social media celebrity with many millions of followers across his various accounts, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, otherwise known by his online monikers ‘Ray Hushpuppi’ and simply ‘Hush’, maintained a luxurious jet-setter’s lifestyle prior to his arrest in Dubai last month, frequently posting photos of himself in designer clothes, wearing expensive watches and posing beside luxury cars and private jets.
The 37-year-old Nigerian Instagram star arrived in Chicago late on Thursday evening, following his extradition by authorities in the UAE. He made his first court appearance on Friday morning, and is expected to be transferred to a facility in Los Angeles at some point in the coming weeks, according to a release from the US Department of Justice.
Federal prosecutors in California filed a criminal complaint against Abbas on June 25.
According to an accompanying affidavit filed with the complaint, an investigation by the FBI earlier this year found that “Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime,” and that he is “one of the leaders of a transnational network that facilitates computer intrusions” in order “to steal hundreds of millions of dollars” from victims all over the world.
Authorities have declined to identify those targeted by the alleged conspiracy. The list reportedly includes a New York-based law firm that was defrauded out of almost US$1 million last October, a “foreign financial institution” that suffered a loss of $14.7 million following a cyber-heist in February 2019, and an English Premier League football club targeted as part of a scheme to steal almost $125 million.
The favoured means of theft among Abbas’ alleged network is a form of cybercrime known as BEC schemes, in which a hacker gains unauthorised access to a business’ internal email system, later using compromised accounts to trick personnel into transferring money out of the victim company.
US Attorney Mark Hanna said that BEC schemes are some of the most difficult cybercrimes to detect and prosecute.
“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,” he 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,” he added.
Authorities in Dubai arrested Abbas as part of a series of coordinated raids that also saw a dozen alleged co-conspirators detained, according to Sky News.