Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 August 2020

Dubai-based 'cyber criminal' Hushpuppi accused of targeting English Premier League club in £100m scam

Alleged gang leader, who was arrested in Dubai, could face decades in US prison

Instagram celebrity Ramon Abbas has been accused in the US of a plot to target an English Premier League club in a £100 million fraud.

Mr Abbas, 37, a Nigerian businessman known to millions of Instagram followers as Hushpuppi, is said to have targeted victims around the world in cyber heists worth hundreds of millions of dollars, US court documents claim.

He was arrested in Dubai last month and extradited to the US, where he has been accused of being the money-launderer for a gang involved in hacking corporate emails and directing huge payments to accounts they controlled.

He was allegedly involved in laundering the proceeds of scams worth “hundreds of millions of dollars”.

Mr Abbas was identified on the phone contacts list of another unnamed conspirator as the “Billionaire Gucci Master!!!”, according to the documents.

Next one is in a few weeks will let U know when it’s ready. Too bad they caught on or it would have been a nice payout

Accomplice's message to Hushpuppi after a failed attack on Malta's Bank of Valletta

Their targets included the unidentified football club, Malta’s oldest bank and a company based in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, which they tried to defraud of £200 million (Dh927m/$252.3m).

It was not clear if the attempted frauds of the football club and the UK-based company were successful, but some of the efforts to transfer money from the Maltese bank appear to have failed, according to messages between the plotters.

Mr Abbas was arrested last month along with another Nigerian, Olalekan Jacob Ponle, known as Woodberry, and 10 other men.

Dubai police confiscated 13 luxury cars, computers and smartphones during the raids.

Mr Ponle has also been charged in the US with wire fraud, ripping off several US companies and stealing tens of millions of dollars. Both men face several decades in prison if convicted.

Mr Abbas’s address was given in US court documents as a residence at the five-star Palazzo Versace hotel in Dubai.

The complex on Dubai Creek is described on its website as “truly symbolic of the Versace lifestyle”.

The businessman is due to appear in court in the US state of Illinois again on Thursday, charged with conspiracy to launder money secured from the various cyber crimes that netted vast sums.

Investigators highlighted Hushpuppi’s wealthy lifestyle in the UAE, which he flaunted on Instagram to his 2.3 million followers.

They included pictures of himself in June with a white Rolls-Royce Cullinan that included the hashtag “AllMine”.

Four months earlier he posted a photo of himself in front of two cars, including a Rolls-Royce Wraith.

The starting price of both cars was about $330,000, an FBI investigator said.

Mr Abbas was also pictured with Ferraris, Bentleys, inside private jets and wearing high-value watches and designer clothes.

Court filings accuse him of involvement in a scam to launder €13m (Dh54.1m) fraudulently transferred from Malta’s Bank of Valletta to accounts around the world.

The bank, the oldest on the island, closed its branches, ATM machines and website, after discovering the attempt to hack into its system.

Employees uncovered the problem as they tallied international transfers and sought to reclaim the money.

Mr Abbas provided details for two accounts in Romania and Bulgaria that could each receive €5m from the scam, a review of phone messages between Mr Abbas and his unidentified co-conspirator showed.

The messages revealed the two men discussed whether the transfer had been successful after the money failed to show up in the Romanian account.

The second man told Mr Abbas: “Brother, we still have access and they didn’t realise, we gonna shoot again tomoro am”.

But the plotters' plans were scuppered after employees got wind of the plot and the attempted heist was publicised.

The second man sent an image of a news report detailing the theft of funds from the bank. “Look it hit the news,” he wrote.

Abbas replied: “Damn”

“Next one is in a few weeks will let U know when it’s ready. Too bad they caught on or it would have been a nice payout,” the second man wrote.

Ramon Abbas, known as Hushpuppi, faces decades in jail if convicted of alleged frauds worth hundreds of millions of dollars
Ramon Abbas faces decades in jail if convicted of alleged frauds worth hundreds of millions of dollars

The court documents suggest Mr Abbas was struggling to keep up with the demand to open new bank accounts in Mexico and Europe to receive millions of dollars from the scams in the US and UK.

His alleged co-conspirator told him in 2019 that he was working with hackers who could obtain $1m to $5m once or twice a week after hacking the email accounts of senior executives.

“I have other companies ready to swap bro, pls help me out I am losing millions,” the second man said in May 2019.

Once they had successfully taken on the identity of an executive, they sent messages to staff telling them to transfer money to fake accounts that were under the control of the Nigerian scammers.

The money was then transferred out of the accounts – some of it into bitcoin – before the businesses realised what was happening.

Legal proceedings in the US continue on Thursday.

Updated: July 9, 2020 04:56 AM

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