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Again, US court postpones sentencing of Hushpuppi

  The US Central District Court in California has postponed the sentencing of Ramon Abbas, a Nigerian Instagram celebrity, popularly known a...

 

The US Central District Court in California has postponed the sentencing of Ramon Abbas, a Nigerian Instagram celebrity, popularly known as Hushpuppi, who has pleaded guilty to multi-million-dollar fraud charges.


Hushpuppi was apprehended in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate (UAE) in June 2020, and subsequently taken to the US, where he pleaded guilty to the charges in July 2021.


The trial judge, Otis Wright, has fixed 7 November as the date to sentence Hushpuppi, according to a court’s notice.


“COUNSEL ARE NOTIFIED, the Sentencing is CONTINUED to November 7, 2022 at 11:30 a.m. as to Defendant Ramon Olorunwa Abbas,” the court’s announcement shifting the sentencing read.


The sentence hearing was initially moved by Judge Wright from 14 February to 11 July before shifting it to 21 September and now 7 November.


Hushpuppi, in July 2021, agreed to plead guilty to the multi-million-dollar fraud charges slammed against him by the American government.


He has been in prison since his arrest in Dubai and rendition to the US in June 2020.


In a dramatic twist, Mr Abbas, who initially maintained his innocence, entered into a plea bargain agreement with the US authorities in July 2021, in the hope of getting a lighter punishment.


He pleaded guilty to Count Two which is “Conspiracy to Engage in Money Laundering,” an offence that attracts a maximum imprisonment of 20 years among other punishments including full restitution, his plea agreement with the U.S. government states in part.


“Defendant understands that the defendant will be required to pay full restitution to the victim(s) of the offence to which the defendant is pleading guilty.


“Defendant agrees that, in return for the USAO’s compliance with its obligations under this agreement, the court may order restitution to persons other than the victim(s) of the offenses to which defendant is pleading guilty and in amounts greater than those alleged in the count to which defendant is pleading guilty,”.


Not being an American citizen, he will be deported after completing his jail term and paying up the amount to be restituted.


The maximum penalty for the offence which Mr Abass hopes will be reduced at his sentencing include: “20 years’ imprisonment; a 3-year period of supervised release; a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest; and a mandatory special assessment of $100.”


Earlier in June 2020, the 39-year-old known for flaunting his opulent lifestyle on social media was arrested in Dubai by special agents including the Emerati police officers and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operatives.


The FBI stated in an affidavit obtained by newsmen that its investigations revealed that Mr Abbas financed this extravagant lifestyle with proceeds of crime.


Background

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California states in the agreement that beginning no later than on or about January 18, 2019, through on or about June 9, 2020, Hushpuppi “knowingly combined, agreed, and conspired with multiple other persons (“co-conspirators”) to conduct financial transactions into, within, and outside the United States involving property that represented the proceeds of wire fraud.”


The co-conspirators, according to USAO, targeted multiple victims and laundered and/or attempted to launder funds fraudulently obtained, and attempted to be fraudulently obtained, through bank cyber-heists, business email compromise (BEC) frauds, and other fraud schemes.


The intended victims of the conspiracy were said to include a foreign financial institution (which was a bank in Malta), the victim’s law firm (located in New York State), and two companies located in the United Kingdom.


Mr Abass was said to have known that “these fraudulent schemes included bank cyber-heists, BEC schemes, and other fraud schemes.”


A top Nigerian police officer, Abba Kyari, was later indicted over his roles in facilitating the crime. But a federal court in Abuja, recently dismissed the Nigerian government’s extradition request for Mr Kyari.


The judge, Emeka Nwite, said Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, was responsible for the failure of the case by instituting the extradition proceedings despite the pending criminal case against Mr Kyari in Nigeria.


Mr Kyari and three other police officers are being tried on charges bordering on cocaine trafficking.


The foreign financial institution (a bank in Malta) was an intended victim of a cyber-heist, while the other victims identified above were victims of BEC schemes.


In some BEC schemes involving victim companies in the United Kingdom, Mr Abass was said to have with one co-conspirator on May 12, 2019, how they anticipated fraudulent payments of approximately £6 million per week.


“Once a victim deposited funds into a bank account, the defendant would coordinate with other co-conspirators to obtain or move the funds, and then to further launder the funds,” the U.S. government said.


In addition to admitting defendant’s involvement in the schemes intending to defraud the victims listed above, Mr Abass was also said to have admitted involvement in a scheme to defraud a victim company in Qatar that was building an international school (the Qatari Victim Company) and the owner of that company.


He was also said to have in December 2019, begun conspiring with a co-conspirator to defraud the owner of the Qatari company “who was seeking a lender to invest $15,000,000 in a project to build an international school”.


Mr Abass’ alleged co-conspirator was said to have already defrauded the victim of funds at the time that the defendant joined the scheme.


“Beginning on or around December 11, 2019, the defendant began to communicate with the Victim Businessperson, fraudulently using the name Malik,” it was stated.


As Malik, the prosecution said further, Huspuppi falsely told the victim that he would open a bank account in the United States where the $15,000,000 loan could initially be deposited.


“In truth, defendant and Coconspirator A did not intend to assist the Victim Businessperson in securing a loan; they were defrauding the Victim Businessperson,” the prosecution alleged.

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