A now-infamous Nigerian Instagram influencer, who goes by the handle @hushpuppi, was ordered to spend 11 years in a US prison for his role in several cyber heists and money-laundering, which included a 2019 hit on Malta’s Bank of Valletta.
The self-described Billionaire Gucci Master, or Ramon Abbas, was sentenced on Monday in Las Angeles after having pleaded guilty in 2021 to conspiracy to engage in money laundering. The crimes include aiding North Korean hackers to launder money after they attempted to steal more than $1.3 billion (€1.3 billion) in a series of cyber bank heists.
Claiming to be a “real estate developer”, Mr Abbas reached social media stardom sharing photos of his opulent lifestyle, featuring designer clothes, supercars, and a considerable amount of private air travel, to his then 2.5 million Instagram followers.
He was detained in June 2020, and pleaded guilty to the charges on 20th April, according to court documents.
Upon his arrest in the United Arab Emirates in 2021 by local police, working in collaboration with the USA’s FBI, nearly $41 million (€34.5 million in 2021 terms) in cash, 13 luxury cars worth around $6.8 million (€5.72 million), and phone and computer data containing swathes of evidence including the addresses of nearly two million possible victims was found at his residence.
In court filings, the fraudster was described as “an equal opportunity criminal,” with his “long history as a scammer and money launderer” being cited.
In court, he was reportedly portrayed as a family man who had found himself in financial trouble. He apologised to his victims, promising full repayment by selling his two Rolls Royces, a Ferrari and a Range Rover.
In his plea, he admitted to setting up bank accounts in Romania and Bulgaria for Ghaleb Alaumary, a convicted money launderer, through which money from Bank of Valletta (BOV) was laundered. BOV was defrauded €13 million when it was hacked in early 2019 after hackers broke into the bank’s system posing as the French stock market regulator.
The US also charged the North Korean hackers with stealing, or planning to steal, the sum from BOV. The hacking attempt at the time caused the bank to take its services offline.
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