Nigerian socialite Hushpuppi has pleaded guilty to money laundering as well as a number of business email compromise schemes that defrauded his victims to the tune of over $20 million, authorities in the U.S. announced. The 37-year-old, who pleaded guilty in a California court in April, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, Forbes reported.
Born Ramon Abbas, the Dubai-based Nigerian influencer was known for his ostentatious lifestyle and the flaunting of his wealth and luxurious acquisitions to his millions of followers on social media. In June last year, he was arrested by Emirati authorities for his alleged involvement in a series of cybercrime activities targeting companies and individuals. He was subsequently extradited to the United States to face trial.
Following his arrest, Hushpuppi’s former lawyer was adamant he was not guilty but the accused socialite has since taken a U-turn. Among the charges the accused pleaded guilty to include an alleged attempt by him and his co-conspirators to “steal more than $1.1 million from a business person attempting to finance the construction of a school for children in Qatar–and the subsequent laundering of illicit proceeds through bank accounts around the world.”
Describing how the accused persons went about it in a statement on Wednesday, acting United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison explained: “The defendants allegedly faked the financing of a Qatari school by playing the roles of bank officials and creating a bogus website in a scheme that also bribed a foreign official to keep the elaborate pretense going after the victim was tipped off.”
Wilkison added Hushpuppi “played a significant role in the scheme” and “funded his luxurious lifestyle by laundering illicit proceeds generated by con artists.”
Hushpuppi also pleaded guilty to causing a Malta-based bank to lose $14.7 million as well as causing another $7.7 million loss in another case involving different victims, Forbes reported. And per court documents, Hushpuppi is required to “pay full restitution to the victim(s).”
Prior to pleading guilty, Hushpuppi’s former lawyer, Gal Pissetzky, had told Forbes in July his Nigerian client was “absolutely not guilty of [the] charges they are accusing him of.” Pissetzky argued the Nigerian socialite was “running a legitimate business and a very legitimate Instagram account and did not take part in any scam or fraud.”
And when Pissetzky was asked the source of his client’s wealth, he replied, “He’s an entrepreneur. He has real estate involvement … [he’s] an Instagram personality. He was promoting brands and that’s how he was very legitimately making his money.”
But in Wednesday’s statement, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, Kristi K. Johnson, said Hushpuppi was “among the most high-profile money launderers in the world.”
“His celebrity status and ability to make connections seeped into legitimate organizations and led to several spin-off schemes in the U.S. and abroad. Today’s announcement deals a crucial blow to this international network and hopefully serves as a warning to potential victims targeted with this type of theft,” Johnson added.