He dreamt of owning two motorcycles, a commercial bus and marrying the daughter of a food vendor. Ramon Olorunwa Abass aka Hushpuppi didn’t want too much. His dream, however, grew bigger when he started going to Lagos Island from his Oworonsoki residence in Lagos Mainland to sell used clothes.
One testimony that keeps resonating from those who knew him, before the celebrity lifestyle beckoned, is his enterprising spirit. Many described him as an unrelenting hustler who wanted the best for himself and his family. But how he became so big and famous in a short while is a mystery no one has been able to explain. Even after his arrest by the Dubai Police on June 10, 2020 for alleged N168 billion global cybercrime, many can’t stop wondering: ‘How did he do it?’
“In 2019 alone, the FBI recorded $1.7 billion in losses by companies and individuals victimised through business email compromise scams, the type of scheme Mr. Abbas is charged with conducting from abroad,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
The 37-year-old rose from a Lagos slum to become known across the world as a cyber fraud kingpin, and Nigeria’s most high-profile fraud suspect since the arrest of Obinwanne Okeke aka Invictus Obi the self-styled CEO of Invictus Group, arrested in August 2019 for $11 million BEC fraud.
Hushpuppi is slightly the opposite of Obi. Unlike Abass the rockstar and Gucci lover, Obi presented himself as a business executive in suit and tie, giving TED talks, granting media interviews and gracing the front page of magazines.
Education appears to be the difference: Obi holds a degree in International Studies and Forensic Criminology and Masters of International Relations and Counter-Terrorism Studies from Monash University in Australia. Hushpuppi is only known to have attended Command Children School, as he revealed in an interview.
Obi’s lifestyle left almost no room for suspicion – to the world he was a young businessman and a pride of Africa. Abass was loud and flamboyant and was not known with any credible business venture. The two men have something in common, however: an unquenching thirst for fame and publicity. They want to be seen and known everywhere.
“I post a few of these things so that someone can see my page someday and decide not to give up,” Hushpuppi wrote in a post.
Their desperation for fame opened the wall to a series of investigations into their mysterious business activities. What made them so big?
In Oworonsoki where Hushpuppi lived before leaving Nigeria for Dubai, some residents who spoke with Neusroom are divided over his arrest. Though jittery and very careful about discussing Hushpuppi’s life with ‘strangers’ over fears they could be arrested, the very few who spoke on condition of anonymity want him jailed, while some are sympathetic to his plight and want his sentence reduced.
“Many people here don’t like him. Aside from showing off on Instagram, he has not done anything to help people who suffered with him,” one resident Shola said.
Shola lives two streets away from Ogunyomi street where Hushpuppi lived, and claims he knew the fraud suspect long before he left the country. After some naira notes had exchanged hands, Shola took Neusroom correspondent Michael Orodare to the ‘face me I face you’ apartment where Hushpuppi lived before he left the country. “Even in the house where he lived, those who they lived together are still there. How can you claim to be a billionaire and not help your guys?” he wondered.
“I like him, and I want him freed but he has displayed too much wealth on the internet,” says Jamiu (not real name) who sees Hushpuppi as a hero and does not believe he has committed an unprecedented crime. “There is no Yahoo Boy as rich as Hushpuppi,” he boasted. A popular food vendor in the neighborhood, I was informed, has been furious and raining curses on security operatives since she heard about the arrest of Hushpuppi. He was her benefactor and she does not want him in jail.
“When he (Hushpuppi) was here he patronised the food vendor, and even the last time he visited, he gave her a lot of money,” the men who took Neusroom correspondent to the street said. “This is not a good time to speak with her about Hushpuppi, she is still in grief, maybe you can come back some other time.”
If those claims are true, the sign of money Hushpuppi reportedly gave the food vendor does not show on her business. Her shop which is made of wood sits beside the road and has no sign that the owner had seen good money.
Hushpuppi was arrested alongside Olalekan Ponle aka Woodbery and 11 other suspects in a coordinated early morning raid codenamed Fox Hunt 2 consisting of officers from the FBI, Interpol and Dubai police. More than 150 million dirham (N15 billion) cash, 21 laptops, 47 phones, 15 USB drives, 5 hard drives, 119,580 files, and 13 luxury cars were seized by detectives when they raided the Dubai apartments.
He was extradited to the U.S with Woodbery on July 2 where they will be facing trial.
Police say they found the email addresses of nearly two million victims on the computers and hard drives seized from Hushpuppi. Among the many accusations against him is the theft of $922,857 stolen through a Business Email Compromise (BEC) scam.
According to the FBI “The affidavit also alleges that Abbas conspired to launder funds stolen in a $14.7 million cyber-heist from a foreign financial institution in February 2019, in which the stolen money was sent to bank accounts around the world. Abbas allegedly provided a co-conspirator with two bank accounts in Europe that Abbas anticipated each would receive €5 million (about $5.6 million) of the fraudulently obtained funds.
The unnamed financial institution is the Bank of Valetta in Malta. In his years of alleged criminal career, he is believed to have earned about N170 billion in cash proceeds from his cybercrime activities. When he finally appears before the U.S Federal Court in Los Angeles, the scale of his atrocities will be laid bare. Some may come surprising.
This Article was originally published on NuesRoom.com