A Nigerian social media star, known for flaunting a luxurious lifestyle to millions of his followers on Instagram, has appeared in court in the US charged with running a global fraud operation, including targeting a Premier League football club, a bank and a US law firm.
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, a 37-year-old known as “Ray Hushpuppi” who claims to run a real estate business, is alleged to have conspired to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through business email compromise (BEC) frauds and other scams, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said.
A months-long investigation by the FBI led to his arrest last month by authorities in the United Arab Emirates, where Abbas was a resident.
In a video published online by Dubai police, officers working in “Operation Fox Hunt 2” stormed into Hushpuppi’s home as he slept and arrested him, in one of a series of coordinated raids against him and other co-conspirators.
FBI special agents obtained custody of Abbas and took him to Chicago, where he appeared in court on Friday morning, the DoJ said.
In hundreds of Instagram posts in recent years, the popular Nigerian national has showcased an opulent lifestyle to more than 2.4 million followers, posing in designer clothes and watches, luxury cars and chartered jets. Investigators were able to track his movements by following his posts, the DoJ said.
“The FBI’s investigation has revealed that Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime,” the agency said.
Cyber-fraud has been increasingly targeted by Nigerian authorities in recent years yet remains a major challenge.
Abbas is prominent among a cohort of famous social media stars celebrated in Nigerian popular culture despite being long suspected of links to fraud networks.
The networks, like many criminal fraud groups around the world, have prolifically used business email compromise or BEC schemes, deceiving companies into making money transfers.
Abbas and others “conspired to launder £100m (approximately $124m) from an English Premier League soccer club,” the Department of Justice said. The club was not named by the agency.
Abbas is also accused of laundering $14.7m stolen in a cyber-heist from an unnamed bank in February 2019, sending the money to bank accounts around the world.
If convicted Abbas could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Following his arrest in Dubai, Nigeria’s anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said Abbas was its “most wanted hacker” and was under investigation in Nigeria.