Nigerian Instagram influencer admits to fraud in US

Ramon Olorunwa Abbas's Instagram presence had turned him into a celebrity.
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas's Instagram presence had turned him into a celebrity.PHOTO: HUSHPUPPI/INSTAGRAM

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - A Nigerian Instagram influencer known as @hushpuppi and the Billionaire Gucci Master admitted in the United States to taking part in a scam to steal more than US$1.1 million (S$1.35 million) from a businessman attempting to finance the construction of a school in Qatar, according to the US Justice Department.

Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, 37, pleaded guilty on April 20, according to documents ordered unsealed on Wednesday (July 28), the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles said in a statement.

Abbas' lawyer Louis J. Shapiro was not immediately available to comment.

Abbas' Instagram presence had turned him into a celebrity and he appeared on social media with pop idols Davido and WizKid and football players of English clubs like Chelsea and Man City.

But he was also accused by the Justice Department in February of helping North Korean hackers launder money and playing a supporting role in cyberscams perpetrated by three computer programmers accused of extorting US$1.3 billion of cash and cryptocurrency.

In the Qatari school scam, Abbas along with his co-conspirators faked the school financing by playing the roles of bank officials, created a bogus website and bribed a foreign official to keep the pretense going after the victim was tipped off, Acting US Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in the statement.

Abbas' "celebrity status and ability to make connections seeped into legitimate organisations and led to several spin-off schemes in the US and abroad," Ms Kristi K. Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office, said in the statement. "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."

Abbas took part in scams that resulted in a total of US$24 million in losses to the victims, the US said.

About US$230,000 of the stolen funds from the school scam was used to buy a Richard Mille RM11-03 watch, which was hand delivered to Abbas in Dubai and subsequently appeared in @hushpuppi's social media posts, the US said.