FBI ‘kidnapped' Nigerian Instagrammer from Dubai

A Nigerian man accused of multimillion-dollar fraud and money laundering by the United States was kidnapped by the FBI from Dubai, his lawyer says, reports BBC.

Ramon Olorunwa Abbas - known to his 2.5 million Instagram followers as Ray Hushpuppi - and another cyber-heist suspect Olalekan Jacob Ponle (aka Mr Woodberry) were arrested in Dubai, where they lived, in June. They then appeared in a Chicago court on 3 July.

The United Arab Emirates has no extradition treaty with the United States but Dubai police said they had been extradited to the US.

A spokesman for the US Department of Justice told the BBC that Hushpuppi was expelled from Dubai and was not extradited. He did not answer how he ended up in US custody. Mr Abbas' lawyer Gal Pissetzky told the BBC that his client, who posts on Instagram about his extravagant lifestyle, was not a criminal and had made his money legitimately. "He is a social media influencer with millions of followers, with millions of people that respect and loved him, and he loved them, and that's what he did. In today's society, that's a business," he said.

Mr Pissetzky admits that he is not "100% familiar" with social media and his children consider him too old but he knows "that's how people make money today".

The Chicago defence lawyer's argument that Hushpuppi was paid by designer brands for promotion has set the stage for what promises to be a long trial in American courts.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) accuses Mr Abbas, 37, of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from frauds known as Business Email Compromise (BEC) and other scams.

In a statement about Mr Abbas' initial court appearance, the DoJ said "FBI special agents earlier this week obtained custody of Abbas and brought him to the United States" without giving any further details.

Mr Pissetzky is not convinced.
"If Dubai wanted to expel him, they should have expelled him back to Nigeria. I've never heard of anything like that. That is the real story here."

Ray Hushpuppi was already popular on Instagram for his luxurious lifestyle documented exhaustively on his page but he has gained another 100,000 followers since his dramatic arrest.

At the time, Dubai police said they recovered $40m (£32m) in cash, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8m, 21 computers, 47 smartphones and the addresses of nearly two million alleged victims. A complaint against him filed in court accuses Mr Abbas of leading a transnational network of cybercriminals whose targets included a US law firm, a foreign bank and an English Premier League football club.

Email scams typically try to steal an individual's personal information, or to defraud them by impersonating a legitimate business contact and tricking the target into sending money into a wrong account.

They're sometimes called 419 scams, after the relevant article in the Nigerian Criminal Code.
The affidavit claims that Mr Abbas conspired to launder $14.7m (£11.7m) stolen in a cyber-heist from a foreign financial institution in February 2019.

It did not name the institution by name but a bank in Malta reported losing the same sum to hackers that same month.
The bank did not respond to a request for comment.

The FBI says $1.7bn was lost by individuals and companies in business email compromise scams in 2019 alone.

"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," United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement when the charges were announced.

His lawyer Michael B Nash told the judge at a detention hearing on Thursday that he had not had a chance to speak to his client. When he was allowed 15 minutes in a virtual breakout room to confer with Mr Ponle, he returned to request a new date for the hearing.