Saturday, 05 December 2020
Items filtered by date: July 2020

The day after his 29th birthday in May, Olalekan Jacob Ponle posted a picture on his Instagram standing next to a bright yellow Lamborghini in Dubai.

"Stop letting people make you feel guilty for the wealth you've acquired," he admonished, wearing designer jewellery and Gucci clothes from head to toe.

A month later, the Nigerian, who goes by the name "mrwoodbery" on Instagram, was arrested by Dubai Police for alleged money laundering and cyber fraud.

The most famous of the dozen Africans nabbed in the dramatic operation was 37-year-old Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, "hushpuppi" or just "hush" as he was known by his 2.4 million Instagram followers.

Police in the emirate say they recovered $40m (£32m) in cash, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8m, 21 computers, 47 smartphones and the addresses of nearly two million alleged victims.

Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle were both extradited to the US and charged in a Chicago court with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars obtained from cybercrimes.

The two have not yet been asked to plead and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

"I think there's probably a certain arrogance when they believe they've been careful about maintaining anonymity in their online identities, but they live high on the hog and get careless on social media," said Glen Donath, a former senior prosecutor in the US Attorney's Office in Washington, DC.

It is a spectacular crash for the two Nigerian men who extensively documented their high-flying lifestyle on social media, raising questions about the sources of their wealth.

They unwittingly provided crucial information about their identities and activities for American detectives with their Instagram and Snapchat posts.

They are accused of impersonating legitimate employees of various US companies in "business email compromise" (BEC) schemes and tricking the recipients into wiring millions of dollars into their own accounts.

On Instagram, hushpuppi said he was a real estate developer and had a category of videos called "Flexing" - social media lingo for showing off. But the "houses" were actually a codeword for bank accounts "used to receive proceeds of a fraudulent scheme", investigators allege.

"Our value system in Nigeria needs to be checked, especially the emphasis we place on wealth, no matter how you got it," the economist Ebuka Emebinah told the BBC from New York.

"It's a culture where people believe that results speak for you. We don't place as much emphasis on the process and this has built up over time."

English Premier League team targeted

In April, hushpuppi renewed his lease for another year at the exclusive Palazzo Versace apartments in Dubai under his real name and phone number.

"Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings in my life. Continue to shame those waiting for me to be shamed," he captioned an Instagram picture of a Rolls-Royce just a fortnight before he was arrested.

"Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime, and he is one of the leaders of a transnational network that facilitates computer intrusions, fraudulent schemes (including BEC schemes), and money laundering, targeting victims around the world in schemes designed to steal hundreds of millions of dollars," the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) said in an affidavit.

In one case, a foreign financial institution allegedly lost $14.7m in a cyber-heist where the money ended up in hushpuppi's bank accounts in multiple countries.

The affidavit also alleged that he was involved in a scheme to steal $124m from an unnamed English Premier League team.

The FBI obtained records from his Google, Apple iCloud, Instagram and Snapchat accounts which allegedly contained banking information, passports, communication with conspirators and records of wire transfers.

About 90% of business email compromise scams originate in West Africa, research from American email security firm Agari shows.

'Yahoo boys'

The complaint against Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle describe tactics that resemble what the company calls Vendor Email Compromise tactics, where scammers compromise an email account and study communication between a customer and a vendor.

"The scammer would gather contextual details, as they watched the legitimate email flow," explains Crane Hassold, Agari's senior director of threat research.

"The bad actor would redirect emails to the bad actor's email account, craft emails to the customer that looked like they are coming from the vendor, indicate that the 'vendor' had a new bank account, provide 'updated' bank account information and the money would be gone, at that point."

Mr Ponle, known online as "mrwoodberry", used Mark Kain in emails, according to the FBI.

He is accused of defrauding a Chicago-based company into sending wire transfers of $15.2m. Companies in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New York, and California are also said to have fallen victim.

The cash trail allegedly disappeared after his accomplices, called money mules, converted the money into the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

Email scams have become so prevalent globally, and so deeply linked to Nigeria, that the fraudsters have a name in the country: "Yahoo boys".

They try to convince a recipient to wire money to the other side of the world or they go "phishing", stealing a user's identity and personal information for fraud.

The FBI warns against the Nigerian letter or "419" fraud - emails promising large sums of money, called advance fee scams. The "Nigerian prince" trope has become shorthand for deception.

How a 419 and romance scam works

  • An individual may contact you via e-mail, explaining he needs help to transfer money
  • Will tell you that political turmoil or a natural disaster makes it difficult for him to make the transfer
  • Will ask you to give him your financial details so that he can transfer the money into your account
  • This allows him to access and steal from your account
  • Be careful what you post on social media and dating sites as scammers use the details to better understand you and target you

A Washington, DC-based attorney, Moe Odele, finds it frustrating as a Nigerian because it ignores the "systemic failures that have led to brilliant Nigerian youths engaging in these scams", in the country and abroad.

"They see it as an easy way out in a country that offers them limited options and, in many cases, no options at all," she says.

"But there are also many brilliant Nigerians are represented in world stages from education to pop culture."

Published in Business and Economy

By Bolaji Ogundele, Abuja/ THE NATION

Final year secondary school students in Nigeria won’t participate in the forthcoming West African Examination Council(WAEC) examinations, the Federal Government has declared.

The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who disclosed this to State House Correspondents on Wednesday after the week’s virtual Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, also said there is no date for school resumption yet.

He said he would prefer Nigerian students lose an academic year than to expose them to danger.

Published in Headliners

Nollywood actress Tonto Dikeh and her best friend Bobrisky are two friends who have come a long way together and are still holding on.

The duo have publicly declared their love for each other over again. In a new photo the best friends were paired as a couple and Bob played the position of the guy.

Tonto captioned the photo with the note below:

y’all joke too much..
She is sexy thou..
@samklef na your hand work be this?
.
Beacation with boo @bobrisky222

Published in Arts & Culture

From Yusuf Alli, Managing Editor, Abuja/ THE NATION

  • EFCC chair returns to custody after second-day of grilling
  • Three shortlisted for job

Detectives on Tuesday searched the personal house of the embattled Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu.

The EFCC boss is under investigation by an Administrative Panel, headed by Justice Isa Ayo Salami, a former president of the Court of Appeal. He appeared at the panel on Tuesday for the second day.

It was learnt that the detectives combed Magu’s house in Karu on the outskirts of Abuja at about 7pm.

A source said: “About 10 detectives in four vehicles went to Magu’s personal house in Karu, a clustered suburb of Abuja. They met some aides and guards. They said they came to search the house but the aides and security guards resisted them.

“When they insisted that they were acting on intelligence, the security guards and aides called Magu’s wife on the telephone and she directed them to allow the detectives access.

“They conducted the search unhindered. They did not find anything in the house. They wrote a report which was countersigned by one of the aides.

“The same team got in touch with Magu’s wife that it would search Magu’s Maitama official quarters. As a family, we have cooperated with the detectives. And as at 9.30m, the family was waiting for the detectives.

“But we believe that the head of the house ought to be around during the search to avoid misrepresentation.”

There were indications on Tuesday that the findings of the Salami Administrative Panel will guide the final decision by President Muhammadu Buhari on Magu’s fate.

The President engaged the Justice Salami panel to enable him have a broader perspective on the allegations against Magu by Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN).

The source said: “The President is only awaiting Salami panel’s report before taking his decision. He wants to be fair to all parties.

“He does not want any ad hoc approach to the allegations, he has directed the committee to give him a comprehensive report. The anti-corruption agenda is crucial to the administration of President Buhari, he will not want it derailed.

“And the choice of Justice Salami was strategic because he is a man who will dispense justice without fear or favour.”

Another government source said: “Magu’s matter is still unfolding, it is too early to make any categorical comment. I think we should allow some time.”

For the second day, the EFCC chairman appeared before the Presidential Committee to clarify some of the issues raised against him.

After the Monday’s interaction, Magu was not allowed to go home. He was detained at the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID).

Magu arrived at the Banquet Wing of the Presidential Villa at about 9am and left for his detention facility on Tuesday around 8pm after another round of questioning.

A source said: “I think the scope of the allegations is being expanded. Some issues were raised on Monday on the report of the Presidential Audit Committee; the EFCC Audit Report yet to be signed; and Magu’s relationship with some persons.

“The Acting EFCC chairman also went with his lawyer and he came out of the sitting after 8pm.

Already, three candidates have been shortlisted should it become necessary to replace Magu. Two of them are Commissioners of Police.

A source said: “The three candidates have been profiled by the relevant security agencies. Buhari’s decision on Magu will determine who gets the job.”

Some of the 22 allegations are:

  • Alleged discrepancies in the reconciliation records of the EFCC and the Federal Ministry of Finance on recovered funds
  • Declaration of N539billion as recovered funds instead of N504b earlier claimed
  • Insubordination to the office of the AGF by not seeking his approval on some decisions
  • Not providing enough evidence for the extradition of ex-Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke
  • Alleged late action on the investigation of Process and Industrial Development (P&ID) leading to legal dispute
  • Not respecting court order to unfreeze a N7billion judgment in favour of a former Executive Director of First Bank
  • Alleged delay in acting on two vessels seized by Nigerian Navy leading to the loss of crude
  • Alleged favouring of some investigators called Magu’s Boys
  • Reporting some judges to their presiding officers without deferring to the AGF
  • Alleged sales of seized assets to cronies, associates and friends
  • Alleged issuance of investigative activities to some media prejudicial to some cases.
Published in Headliners

By Ismaila Chafe/ PM NEWS

The Buhari Presidency said the ongoing interrogation of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, is to clear him of weighty allegations levelled against him.

A presidency source, who preferred not to be named, told State House correspondents in Abuja on Tuesday that the probe of the anti-graft boss was an affirmation that nobody under “the present administration is above scrutiny’’.

The source, who could neither confirm nor deny the suspension of Magu as reported by traditional and social media outfits, maintained that the investigation of the EFCC boss was to reinforce the Buhari administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability.

He affirmed that the holder of an elevated office such as the chairman of the EFCC must be above suspicion.

According to the source, the Buhari administration would not prejudge anyone, but it can be counted on to uphold justice and fairness.

The source said: “The panel investigating allegations against the Acting EFCC Chairman had been sitting for some weeks now.

“In consonance with the principle of fairness and justice, it was needful that the Acting Chairman be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations, which are weighty in nature.

“Under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, nobody is above scrutiny. The investigation is to reinforce transparency and accountability, rather than to vitiate it.

“Accountability for our actions or inactions is an inalienable part of democracy. In such an elevated position as that of EFCC Chairman, the holder of the position must be above suspicion.

“There’s no prejudgment — absolutely none. The Buhari administration can be counted on to uphold fairness and justice at all times.”

A presidency source had earlier confirmed that Magu was on Tuesday afternoon suspended from office following the ongoing investigation by the presidential panel, headed by retired Justice Ayo Salami.

Published in Business and Economy
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas AKA Ray Hushpuppi.
Ramon Olorunwa Abbas AKA Ray Hushpuppi. Photograph: Ray Huspuppi /Facebook

‘Ray Hushpuppi’ is alleged to have laundered hundreds of millions of dollars

A Nigerian social media star, known for flaunting a luxurious lifestyle to millions of his followers on Instagram, has appeared in court in the US charged with running a global fraud operation, including targeting a Premier League football club, a bank and a US law firm.

Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, a 37-year-old known as “Ray Hushpuppi” who claims to run a real estate business, is alleged to have conspired to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through business email compromise (BEC) frauds and other scams, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said.

A months-long investigation by the FBI led to his arrest last month by authorities in the United Arab Emirates, where Abbas was a resident.

In a video published online by Dubai police, officers working in “Operation Fox Hunt 2” stormed into Hushpuppi’s home as he slept and arrested him, in one of a series of coordinated raids against him and other co-conspirators.

FBI special agents obtained custody of Abbas and took him to Chicago, where he appeared in court on Friday morning, the DoJ said.

In hundreds of Instagram posts in recent years, the popular Nigerian national has showcased an opulent lifestyle to more than 2.4 million followers, posing in designer clothes and watches, luxury cars and chartered jets. Investigators were able to track his movements by following his posts, the DoJ said.

“The FBI’s investigation has revealed that Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime,” the agency said.

Cyber-fraud has been increasingly targeted by Nigerian authorities in recent years yet remains a major challenge.

Abbas is prominent among a cohort of famous social media stars celebrated in Nigerian popular culture despite being long suspected of links to fraud networks.

The networks, like many criminal fraud groups around the world, have prolifically used business email compromise or BEC schemes, deceiving companies into making money transfers.

Abbas and others “conspired to launder £100m (approximately $124m) from an English Premier League soccer club,” the Department of Justice said. The club was not named by the agency.

Abbas is also accused of laundering $14.7m stolen in a cyber-heist from an unnamed bank in February 2019, sending the money to bank accounts around the world.

If convicted Abbas could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Following his arrest in Dubai, Nigeria’s anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said Abbas was its “most wanted hacker” and was under investigation in Nigeria.

Published in Business and Economy

By Taiwo Okanlawon/ PM NEWS

American billionaire rapper Kanye West has announced that he would run for president in 2020 in an apparent challenge to President Donald Trump, with whom he has a friendly relationship with and his presumptive Democratic rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden.

The 43-year-old richest rapper launched his campaign in an Independence Day tweet, on Saturday, using the hashtag “2020 vision,” indicating he plans to toss his hat in the ring for this fall’s election.

“We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States,” West wrote in a Twitter post, adding an American flag emoji and the hashtag “#2020VISION,” he tweeted.

Elon Musk, the chief executive of electric-car maker, Tesla and SpaceX backed Mr. West’s announcement, tweeting, “You have my full support!”

Mr. West has made similar announcements before, as per an NBC report. He had announced at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards that he would run in 2020. Last year again he said he would run in 2024, possibly under the name, “Christian Genius Billionaire Kanye West.”

Mr. West is a supporter of Mr. Trump and has, before, referred to him as “his brother.” He said in April that he was going to vote for him this fall.

“I am not going to be told by the people around me and the people that have their agenda that my career is going to be over. Because guess what: I am still here!” he said.

He has also been known to wear the signature Trump campaign cap, with ‘Make America Great Again’ written across its front.

“You don’t have to agree with Trump but the mob can’t make me not love him,” he tweeted in 2018.

Published in Headliners
A Labrador cross is believed to have attacked the girls after becoming jealous (Image: FocusOn News)
Published in News & Stories
*The father, who lives in Nigeria, apparently confessed to the heinous act by claiming that he behaves abnormally whenever he is 'possessed'

The father, who Mirror Online has not named, allegedly carried out the horrific attack as his wife was giving birth, police in Nigeria say.

He stands accused of defiling his daughter on 28th April, according to local newspaper reports from Imo state.

The girl, two months from her fourth birthday, told a TV news station that her father attacked her in her sleep and was woken up by the pain.

The alleged rapist told reporters that he had been pushed by an 'evil spirit' to commit the act.

The man is alleged to have attacked his daughter as she slept

In an apparent confession, he claimed whenever the spirit possesses him he starts behaving abnormally

He does, however, deny assaulting her while his wife was in the labour room.

The allegations emerged when the wife and mother asked why her daughter flinched during bathing.

A hospital check apparently confirmed that the girl had been raped.

The Commissioner For Women And Children Affairs, Lady Ndidi Mezue condemned the alleged actions as an abominable act.

Published in Headliners

By Taiwo Okanlawon/ PM NEWS

Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI has commended Dubai Police for arresting and extraditing Nigerian Yahoo-Yahoo big boy, Raymond Igbalode Abbas, known as ‘Hushpuppi’ and his close associate, Olalekan Jacob Ponle, also known as Woodberry, to the United States for allegedly defrauding almost two million people.

This was revealed in a statement by the Dubai Police on Thursday after sending Hushpuppi and Woodberry ‘Hushpuppi’ to the US state of Pennsylvania after week of their arrest.

Hushpuppi and associates were wanted for fraud in Europe, the US, and Nigeria.

In June, the Dubai Police had arrested Hushpuppi, Olalekan Jacob Ponle, known as ‘Woodberry’,along with ten African cybercriminals in a special operation dubbed “Fox Hunt 2”.

The operation took down the suspects for committing crimes outside the UAE, including money-laundering, cyber fraud, hacking, criminal impersonating, scamming individuals, banking fraud and identity theft.

The suspects were caught in a series of synchronised raids by six SWAT teams from Dubai Police who foiled the gang’s bid to deceive many people from around the world and steal their money.

The director of Dubai CID, Brigadier Jamal Salem Al Jallaf said the raid resulted in confiscating incriminating documents of a planned fraud on a global scale worth AED 1.6 billion ($ 435 million).

Out of all the suspects arrested with Hushpuppi, Woodberry is perhaps another high profile person. He was known to be stupendously rich without a visible source of his wealth.

Woodberry is less open with his wealth. However, in March of 2019, he announced that he acquired a twin collection of 2019 edition of Lamborghini Urus at over $200,000 and the 2019 Rolls Royce black badge dawn.

Earlier, PM News had reported that Woodberry, has fallen ill after his incarceration at the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center.

According to controversial Nigerian investigative journalist, Dr, Kemi Olunloyo, Woodberry fell ill nine days after authorities moved him alongside Hushpuppi to the federal prison for men located in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, privately operated by the GEO Group under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“Hushpuppi and Woodberry have spent 9 days in Moshannon federal prison. Sadly Woodberry has fallen ill and being treated. They did not expect this. Criminal Fraudsters $450M,” she tweeted.

Published in Headliners
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