….EFCC keeps mum
…case has increased poor perception of Nigerians—Ex-envoy
By Omeiza Ajayi, Idrisu Yakubu, Victor ‘Tunde Oso & Victoria Ojeme
Ripples over the arraignment of social media celebrity, Raymond Abass, aka Hushpuppi, in the United States, took a different turn, yesterday, as All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, tackled each other over alleged close relationship with the suspected internet fraudster.
The APC had accused PDP chieftains, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, ex-Senate President, Sen Bukola Saraki, former Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and Sen Dino Melaye of having a close relationship with Hushpuppi, who was accused of defrauding no fewer than two million people to the tune of N168 billion.
In a statement by its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, APC asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to investigate alleged money laundering reports linking some PDP leaders and financiers to the arrested suspected cyber fraudster.
The statement reads: “Reports of the criminal conspiracy linking the top echelon of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, with Ramon Olorunwa Abbas also known as ‘Ray Hushpuppi’ who was recently arrested along with associate(s) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and extradited to the United States of America to face trial over cyber-enabled fraud and Business Email Compromise BEC schemes should be a matter of serious interest to relevant authorities in Nigeria.
“We note that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has already declared the arraigned Instagram celebrity wanted over fraud allegations. However, the EFCC, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and other sister agencies must investigate money laundering reports linking some PDP leaders and financiers to the Dubai-based international criminal ring.
“At different times, Hushpuppi was been photographed in Dubai meeting with the PDP’s 2019 presidential candidate, Alh. Atiku Abubakar; former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; former Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Senator Dino Melaye among other PDP stalwarts.”
Irked by the statement, Deputy National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Diran Odeyemi, in an exclusive chat with Sunday Vanguard, berated APC, saying it owed Nigerians and the US authorities more explanations on the matter.
The PDP response came on the heels of similar remarks by Atiku and Saraki, who accused APC of politicising an issue that has brought international embarrassment to Nigeria.
The duo berated the party for choosing to speak now instead of when the suspected fraudster was flaunting the proceeds of the alleged theft.
They said it was wrong for the APC to have interpreted taking photographs with someone as having a close relationship with that person.
Nation of scammers
Meanwhile, a retired envoy, Ambassador Ogbole Ode, said the arrest has increased the erroneous belief that Nigeria is a nation of scammers, saying it was wrong for a political leader to be identified with Hushpuppi.
However, the PDP, in its statement, said: “The APC should assist the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, to establish the relationship they are talking about. When has it become a crime for people to be photographed together? And since it appears they know more than other Nigerians, they should speak up now without delay.
“Is this a plot to divert attention from the mindless killings going on across the country under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari? What has the ruling party to say about its mismanagement of the economy which has brought about untold hardship in the country? Have they delivered their promise to secure Nigerians and their properties, revamp the economy and fight corruption to a standstill? These are the questions they should provide answers to if they have a reckoning with their conscience.’’
On his part, Atiku through his media aide, Paul Ibe, wondered how a photograph taken at a public event with Hushpuppi would suddenly become a source of curiosity for the APC.
In his verified Twitter Handle, @omonlakiki, Mr. Ibe wrote: “It is curious that the APC is mischievously trying to link Atiku Abubakar to the alleged fraudster, Ramon Abbas, A.K.A, Hushpuppi simply because he was photographed with Atiku at an event where many Nigerians attended.”
In another statement, he said: “We would advise the APC and Mr. Nabena to be very mindful of such senseless statements in the future especially as the case under reference is a subject of litigation in another country,” the statement read.
“Had they been more sensitive, they would have come to terms with the reality that the case is a national embarrassment – not something to cheer about for any political blackmail.”
However, explaining the negative effect of the matter on Nigeria’s image, Ode told Sunday Vanguard that: “The arrest in Dubai, UAE and subsequent deportation to the USA of Nigeria’s Instagram celebrity, Mr. Raymond Abass, a.k.a Hushpuppi brings to the front burner, nationally and beyond our borders the standard of our criminal justice system. Recall that there was the case of a former governor of one of the states in the South-South geo-political zone. Both arrests were in the same Middle Eastern City of Dubai, which, unfortunately, has become the playground of such characters.
“What is worse, Mr. Abbas was captured in a photo-op with one of Nigeria’s most infantile politicians.
“All the wrong signals are going out into the international public domain, further heightening the erroneous belief that we are a nation of scammers. To exit this odious national image, we must reset the moral standards, beginning with a programme of moral rearmament, where leaders in all spheres of our national life must set examples, thereby creating role models for the younger generation.”
When Sunday Vanguard called the spokesman for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, he promised to revert but failed to do so.
Hushpuppi, who was arraigned last Friday in Chicago, was arrested in June by law enforcement officials in the United Arab Emirates and transferred to the United States last week by the FBI.
The 37-year-old Nigerian is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago, Federal Bureau of Prisons website said.
According to the Justice Department, he would be transferred to Los Angeles in the coming weeks.
According to a federal affidavit, one of the alleged victims was the client of a New York-based law firm that lost nearly a million dollars in 2019.
Prosecutors allege Abbas is one of the leaders of a global network that uses computer intrusions, BEC schemes and money laundering capers to steal hundreds of millions of dollars.
A BEC scheme often involves a hacker, who redirects communications of a business email account to others in an attempt to lure them into making a wire transfer.
A criminal complaint filed last month alleges that Abbas and an unnamed person conspired to launder funds from a $14.7 million heist of a foreign financial institution in 2019.
He was also accused of conspiring to be part of an attempt to steal $124 million from an English Premier League soccer club.
As of press time, he had not secured an attorney.
The Department of Justice says the Hushpuppi Instagram account, which boasts 2.4 million followers, shows Abbas inside or in front of jets, shopping luxury brands, posing in front of Rolls Royces, a Ferrari and other expensive cars.
In the bio, Hushpuppi described himself as a real estate developer.
According to the Dubai Police Facebook page, Hushpuppi and 11 other people were arrested during raids in which authorities seized nearly $41 million, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8 million, phones and computer evidence containing more than 100,000 fraud files and the addresses of nearly 2 million possible victims.