A Nigerian man accused of committing millions of dollars fraud and money laundering by the United States was kidnapped by the FBI from Dubai, said his lawyer.
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas-who is known for his 2.5 million Instagram followers as Ray Hushpuppi-and another cybertheft suspect, Olalekan Jacob Ponle (a.k.a. Mr. Woodberry) was arrested in Dubai, where they lived, in June.
They then appeared in the Chicago court on July 3.
The United Arab Emirates did not have an extradition treaty with the United States but the Dubai police said they had been extradition to the US.
A US Justice Department spokesman told the BBC that Hushpuppi was expelled from Dubai and not extradition. He did not answer how he ended up in US custody.
What does the Hushpuppi lawyer say?
Lawyer Mr. Abbas Gal Pissetzky told the BBC that his clients, who posted on Instagram about his lavish lifestyle, were not criminals and have made legitimate money.
“He is a social media influencer with millions of followers, with millions of people who respect and love him, and he loves them, and that is what he does. In today’s society, it’s a business, “he said.
Mr. Pissetzky admits that he’s not “100% familiar ” with his social media and his children take it too old but he knows “That’s the way people make money today “.
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The argument of the Chicago defense lawyer that Hushpuppi is paid by the designer brands to be promoted has prepared the stage for what is promised as a long trial in an American court.
The Federal Investigative Bureau (FBI) accuses Abbas, 37, plotting to wash hundreds of millions of dollars from fraud known as Business Email compromise Thursday, (BEC) and other scams.
Is the U.S. acting legally?
This is the latest high-profile fraud case involving Nigerian citizens in the United States but his lawyer says the U.S. has no authority to move it from Dubai.
“In my opinion, the FBI and the government here act illegally when they kidnap him from Dubai without any legal process to do so,” says Pissetzky told the BBC.
“No extradition, no legal steps taken, no court document filed, it’s just a call to the FBI. He is not a United States citizen, the U.S. has no authority to carry it, “said his lawyer.
But Dubai police said in a Facebook post that the FBI Director thanked them for extradition the two men.
“You have to ask them about why they call it extradition,” the U.S. Department of Justice spokesman (DoJ) replied in the email.
In a statement about the initial appearance of the court Abbas, DoJ said “FBI Special Agent earlier this week gained custody of the Abbas and brought it to the United States ” without giving further details.
Mr. Pissetzky not sure.
“If Dubai wants to banish him, they should throw him back to Nigeria. I’ve never heard of such a thing. That’s the true story here.”
What was he accused of?
Ray Hushpuppi is already popular on Instagram because his lavish lifestyle is fully documented on his page, but he has gained 100,000 other followers since his dramatic arrest.
At the time, the Dubai police said they gained $40 million in cash (£32 million), 13 luxury cars worth $6.8 million, 21 computers, 47 smartphones, and an address of nearly two million people allegedly victimized.
Complaints against him filed in court accused Abbas of leading a transnational cyber criminal network whose targets include a US law firm, a foreign bank and an English Premier league football Club.
Email scams usually try to steal someone’s personal information, or deceive them by imitating legitimate business contacts and deceptive targets to send money to the wrong account.
They are sometimes called 419 scams, after relevant articles within the Nigeria criminal CODE.
How 419 and romantic scams work
- Someone can contact you by email, explaining that he needs help to transfer money
- Will tell you that political turmoil or natural disasters make it difficult for him to make a transfer
- Will ask you to provide your financial details so that he can transfer money to your account
- This allows it to access and steal from your account
- Be wary of what you post on social media and dating sites because scammers use details to better understand you and target you
A written statement states that Abbas was conspiring to wash $14.7 million (£11.7 million) stolen in the theft of cyberspace from a foreign financial institution in February 2019.
It did not mention the name of the institution but a bank in Malta reported a loss of the same amount for hackers in the same month.
The Bank does not respond to comment requests.
The FBI said $1.7 billion was lost by individuals and corporations in business email compromise fraud in 2019 alone.
“This case targets key players in the major transnational conspiracies who live a luxury lifestyle in another country while allegedly providing a safe shelter for stolen money around the world,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement when the charge was announced.
But Hushpuppi’s lawyer said his clients were earning money by monetizing his large social media presence. He refused to discuss how he was paid for legal fees or the sources of Hushpuppi.
Mr. Pissetzky says this case could last a few months, even more than a year.
What about ‘Mr. Woodberry’?
Ponle, another Nigerian who was arrested in Dubai and currently imprisoned in the United States, is also preparing for trial.
His lawyer Michael B Nash told the judge of a detention hearing on Thursday that he had no chance to talk to his client. When he allowed 15 minutes in the virtual breakout room to negotiate with Mr. Ponle, he returned to ask for a new date for the trial.
“I really don’t have any comments now, I have to learn the facts about the case,” he told the BBC.
Mr. Ponle, 29, ran the Instagram account “Mr. Woodberry ” But the FBI said he used the alias “Mark cain ” in the email. He faced conspiracy allegations to commit wire fraud.
Complaints against it said one company based in Chicago “was tricked into sending wire transfer of $15.2 million “. He was accused of converting some results into Bitcoin digital wallets, effectively ensuring that they could not be tracked.
“Mr. Ponle, are you there? ” A deputy court asked on Thursday when he contacted the hearings of a federal jail.
“Yes, please, ” replied, it is quiet. He did not speak anymore.