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Hushpuppi, Abba Kyari and the ’40 Thieves’

FBI’s arrest of a top gun in transnational cybercrime, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, better known as Hushpuppi, and its indictment of Nigeria’s top cop, Abba Kyari, a deputy commissioner of police, resulting in his suspension pending the result of an independent investigation, have become a media sensation. Chiemelie Ezeobi and Sunday Ehigiator examine the details of the case, including a possible extradition request for Kyari

In the Nigeria Police Force, one name that often comes to mind to crack high profile crimes is Abba Kyari, a deputy commissioner of police. Known as the Supercop, the accolades garnered over the years resulted from his crime-busting skills. From his days at the helm of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Ikeja, his records of crime-fighting were more than impressive. Soon, he headed the inspector general of the police’s Intelligence Response Team (IRT).

Among his exploits were the arrest of Nigeria’s Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike aka ‘Evans’ and gang members; arrest of the killers of former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh (retd); arrest of the most wanted Boko Haram commander Umar Abdulmalik and eight other terrorists; and arrest of 22 Boko Haram terrorists responsible for the kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. He was also credited to have captured a notorious kidnapper Henry Chibueze aka Vampire, and his gang in Owerri and the arrest of the suspected Offa bank robbers.

Hushpuppi, Raid and Arrest

Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, commonly known as Hushpuppi, is a Nigerian Instagram celebrity now jailed in the U.S. Internet frauds, including business email compromise that defrauded a U.S. law firm of about $40 million, illegally transferred $14.7 million from a foreign financial institution and targeting to steal $124 million from an English football club.

Known for his decadent lifestyle, he splurged money on expensive cars, jewellery, designer clothes, and real estate. He made no bones about flaunting it on social media to his 2.5 million followers on Instagram. For Abbas, his reign came to a screeching halt on June 2020 when his apartment at the Palazzo Versace was raided in operation code-named Fox Hunt 2. He was arrested alongside 11 others in six simultaneous raids. During the raid, detectives seized about $40 million (the Dirham equivalent) in cash, 13 luxury cars worth Dh 25 million ($7 million), 21 laptops, 47 smartphones, 15 memory storage devices, five external hard drives, and 800,000 emails of potential victims alongside suitcases full of cash. The arrest was part of an FBI investigation that indicted him of being a ‘key player’ in a transnational cybercrime network that provided “safe havens for stolen money around the world.”

Fraud Allegations

Upon his arrival in the United States on July 3, 2020, he was accused of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars. According to an FBI affidavit, Abbas and others had committed a BEC scheme that defrauded a New York-based law firm client out of approximately $922,857 in October 2019. Abbas and co-conspirators also allegedly tricked one of the law firm’s paralegals into wiring money intended for the client’s real estate refinancing to a bank account that Abbas and the co-conspirators controlled. They succeeded in laundering $396,050 while one of them was in Los Angeles, California.

The affidavit also accused Abbas and a co-conspirator of conspiring to launder funds intended to be stolen through fraudulent wire transfers from a ‘foreign financial institution’ in which fraudulent wire transfers, totalling approximately US$14.7 million, which were sent to bank accounts around the world in February 2019.

Though the affidavit did not name any bank, according to the Forbes account, the date of the attack and amount mentioned in the affidavit matched the attack on Malta’s Bank of Valletta in February 2019. According to Wikipedia, in February 2019, $14.7 million was transferred out of the bank through false international transactions to accounts in the United States, the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, and Hong Kong.

Wikipedia further reported that the attack was of such seriousness in Malta that then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was forced to address parliament. Multiple sources in Malta, including Times of Malta and Malta Today, also repeated Forbes’ claims that Hushpuppi could have been behind the attack. According to the affidavit, Abbas had provided a co-conspirator with two bank accounts in Europe, anticipating receiving $5.6 million each of the fraudulently obtained funds. U.S. authorities also accused him of aiding North Korean hackers in money laundering.

The affidavit further revealed other communications between Abbas and one of his co-conspirators had conspired to launder tens, and at times hundreds, of millions of dollars that were proceeds of other fraudulent schemes and computer intrusions, including a fraudulent scheme to steal £100 million ($124 million) from an English Premier League football club.

Trial

In July 2020, Abbas, alongside Olalekan Ponle, popularly known as Woodberry, was extradited to Chicago, where he was first arraigned. However, because the U.S. court in Illinois did not have jurisdiction over the case, he was transferred to Los Angeles, California. At the pretrial services, he pleaded not guilty to the four counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering conspiracies, international money laundering and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.

During the trial, new details emerged after the

Department of Justice shed more light on one of those scams, given that Abbas worked with North Korean hackers to launder funds stolen from a Maltese bank. In July, Abbas was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles with conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from business email compromise (BEC) frauds and other scams. The court heard how Abbas conspired with five others to defraud the businessperson by claiming to be consultants and bankers who could facilitate a loan to finance the construction of a school in Qatar. The five include 28-year-old Abdulrahman Juma from Kenya, 40-year-old Chibuzo Vincent from Nigeria, 26-year-old Yusuf Anifowoshe, 28-year-old Rukayat Fashola, and 34-year-old Bolatito Agbabiaka. He pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for “conspiracy to engage in money laundering.”

Hushpuppi: Abba Kyari 'deliberately Conspired To Commit Wire Fraud’, US Alleges

Alleged Link to DCP Kyari

Unlike Abbas’ trial and conviction, nothing prepared for further revelations of his criminal activities. Just last week, the United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California, issued an arrest warrant for Kyari. In an affidavit first released by Peoples Gazette, Kyari was brought in by Abbas to deal with a gang member, Kelly Chibuzo Vincent, who turned rogue in Nigeria.

According to the document, Abbas arranged for Vincent to be arrested and jailed. Following that, Kyari sent Abbas photographs of Vincent after his arrest. Kyari also allegedly sent Abbas bank account details for an account into which Abbas could deposit payment for Vincent’s arrest and imprisonment.

Arrest Warrant

In the document, the FBI issued a warrant of arrest for DCP Kyari. Otis Wright of the United States District Court for the Central District of California ordered the FBI to track down Kyari and produce him in the United States for alleged his role in a multi-million dollar fraud perpetrated by Abbas. The FBI further alleged that Abbas and Kyari had been friends and were both involved in a conspiracy to launder money. They also alleged that Kyari was also indicted for receiving bribes from Abbas to arrest a syndicate member in Nigeria. The American prosecutors first sought a court warrant to arrest Kyari on February 12, 2021, and when that did not pan out, they requested another warrant on April 29, 2021, unsealed only recently.

Kyari’s Defence

In his defence posted on his Facebook page, Kyari denied allegations of conspiracy with Hushpuppi, saying he only met him two years ago and did not benefit financially from the fraudster. He claimed that two years ago, Abbas called his office that somebody (believed to be Vincent) in Nigeria threatened to kill his family.

“We traced and arrested the suspect,” said the police officer on the Facebook post. “After investigations, we discovered there wasn’t an actual threat to anyone’s life, and they are long-time friends who have money issues between them. Hence, we released the suspect on bail to go, and he was not taken to any jail. Nobody demanded a kobo from Abbas Hushpuppi. Our focus was to save people’s lives that were purported to have been threatened.”

Kyari said later, after this incident, Abbas saw some of his collections of native clothes and caps on his social media page, and he said he likes them. This then prompted him to connect Abbas to the person selling the clothes. He said Abbas sent about N300,000 directly to the clothes seller’s account.

“The native clothes and caps (5 sets) were brought to our office and he sent somebody to collect them in our office. Nobody demanded any money from Abbas Hushpuppi and nobody collected any money from him. We responded to a distress call he made on threat to his family and released the suspect when we discovered there was no life threat from the suspect. This is the true story. Vincent is alive, he can be contacted,” said Kyari.

FBI’s Published Extract

After he posted his defence, an avalanche of documents was released detailing the exact relationship he had with Abbas. In the FBI’s published extract of Kyari’s conversation with Hushpuppi, on January 15, 2020, Hushpuppi sent an audio recording to Kyari via WhatsApp, stating that he wanted to remind Kyari about what they discussed earlier.

On January 16, 2020, Hushpuppi sent the following threats to Chibuzor: “I dey always tell people to think well before they offend me and make them make sure they fit stand the consequences when the time comes. I won’t say more than that but very soon, very, very soon, the wrath of my hands shall find you and when it does, it will damage you forever.

“At this point, I no get discussion with you. You have committed a crime that won’t be forgiven, that is punishable, and you shall receive die (sic) punishment in due time. I swear with my life, you will regret messing with me. You will even wish you died before my hands will touch you.”

Another part of the document revealed that on May 20, 2020, Abbas allegedly sent Kyari transaction receipts from accounts at Nigerian banks (GTBank and Zenith Bank) of a person Abbas knew in the UAE — a person also arrested with Abbas in Abbas’ apartment by Dubai Police on June 9, 2020 — to the Nigerian bank accounts of another person in Nigeria.

“The amounts on the transaction receipts totalled 8 million Nigerian naira, which was approximately $20,600 based on publicly available exchange rate information,” the documents stated.

Reactions

As expected, the whole saga set tongues wagging with those for and against the deputy police commissioner. Leading the charge, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) demanded a forensic investigation into the reports from the FBI. In a statement signed by its spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan, the party described the alleged involvement of Kyari in the international fraud as worrisome, disturbing, and a stain on the integrity of Nigeria

“It is indeed disquieting that the integrity of our nation has fallen so abysmally low under the corrupt and fraud-patronising President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration, to the extent that the head of its police intelligence unit is being charged in connection with international fraud. Moreover, if this Abba Kyari matter is not well handled, it will be a permanent stain on the reputation of our police, security system, and our nation at large,” said the PDP.

In his reaction, the Executive Director of Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Okechukwu Nwangwuma, described the report on Kyari as nothing new to Nigerian human rights groups.

“One of Amnesty International’s reports also documented incidents of conversion of money and property of crime suspects arrested by IRT under Abba Kyari by the operatives of the rogue unit,” said Nwangwuma. “It was the persistent petitions against the rogue activities of Abba Kyari’s IRT that forced the hands of the former IGP to shut down the IGP IRT/STS across Nigeria, but they restricted them to Abuja. Why do we wait for foreigners to tell us what we already know and have facts on before our sense of indignation and outrage is aroused?”

Nwangwuma further alleged that should an investigation be carried out into all cases of arrest by IRT of suspected kidnappers and robbers, including the case of Evans handled by Kyari, “scandalous cases of conversion of huge sums of money and property belonging to the suspects would be uncovered. Some of them were killed after they were dispossessed of their money and property believed to be proceeds of crime.”

On solutions, Nwangwuma said the entire IRT should be disbanded and the activities of its operatives investigated, adding that “IRT, like the disbanded SARS, is a rogue entity that cannot be reformed.” He added, “The problem is not IRT or SARS or STS. The problem is the Nigerian police. IRT, STS, SARS are all symptoms of a deeper problem. The problem is a criminal force that is crying for reform.”

He called for a reformed police system driven by merit and respect for human rights. The activist also demanded adequate resources for the police and “providing it with modern crime-fighting equipment. He also stated that the government should prioritise the police’s welfare. Nwangwuma also stated the importance of entrenching integrity, building strong internal control systems and external accountability mechanisms, building public trust and partnership between the police and the citizens.

Also speaking scandal, the founder of the Social Intervention Advocacy Foundation, Segun Awosanya, said, “This must not be swept under the proverbial carpet. We have been pointing this out for years now. The petitions are there. Sanitise the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), and let’s be true to the reforms. A system purge is necessary. Scrap the unit headed by Kyari and reform the entire system, end impunity.”

In addition, the National Coordinator of the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), Ikule Emmanuel, said Kyari’s indictment was a pointer that there has always been corruption in the police system.

For each dissenting voice, there arose a support system for Kyari. Former aviation minister Femi Fani-Kayode, defended Kyari stating: “A super cop that has risked his life protecting us from kidnappers, murderers, and terrorists all these years and that has arrested more criminals than any other is accused of taking bribes from a Yahoo boy and scammer all the way from America and we are expected to believe it? Not me.”

Arguing further, he noted, “Allegations are a dime, a dozen, and an indictment does not amount to a conviction: show me the evidence or keep your mouth shut forever. I urge Abba to continue the good work he has been doing and not allow himself to be distracted by his numerous detractors. This is a deep conspiracy to destroy his career, and it will not work.”

Review of Allegations

Meanwhile, hours after the news broke, the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, immediately ordered an internal review of the allegations. In a statement by the Force Headquarters spokesman, Frank Mba, the police reaffirmed its commitment to the pursuit of justice and “the strengthening of its professional relationship with the FBI and other international partners.”

IG Recommends Kyari’s Suspension

Contrary to the opinion that the case would fizzle out, the Baba recommended the immediate suspension of Kyari pending the outcome of an internal investigation. He also instituted a four-man special investigation panel headed by DIG Joseph Egbunike, the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the Force Criminal Investigations Department (FCID).

According to Mba, the suspension is in line with the internal disciplinary processes of the police, expected to create an enabling environment for the panel to carry out its investigations without interference.

The police further explained that the suspension “is to undertake a detailed review of all the allegations against DCP Abba Kyari by the U.S. government as contained in relevant documents that have been availed the NPF” by the FBI.”

PSC Signs off Suspension

Following the inspector general’s recommendation, the Police Service Commission signed off on the suspension excusing him from the exercise of the powers and functions of his office.

According to PSC’s spokesman, Ikechukwu Ani, Kyari’s suspension took effect from July 31. It will subsist pending the outcome of the investigation regarding his indictment by the FBI, adding that the commission also directed the inspector general to furnish it with information on further development on the matter for necessary action.

The commission’s decision was signed by Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, a retired justice of the Supreme Court and commissioner in the PSC. With this, many Nigerians believe the inspector general of police has reaffirmed the force’s commitment to the rule of law as the police assured the public of the sanctity of the probe and the absolute respect for the rights and privileges of Kyari during the probe.

Extradition Request

Following the indictment of the embattled Kyari, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, said the law would be followed to the latter on the cop’s possible extradition. In an interview with Voice of America, Malami said though there was a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and the U.S., guidelines must be followed.

He said: “We have a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and the US on extraditing anyone who commits any offence in any of the countries, be it Nigeria or the United States, but there are guidelines. The guidelines are when the country writes a letter to the foreign affairs ministry, and the foreign affairs will send to the minister of justice, so the court will give permission for the extradition of anyone to go and answer some questions in the United States based on the allegations. I am not saying Abba Kyari will be extradited, but the law will be followed judiciously before taking any action.”

Also, prominent lawyer Mike Ozekhome urged the government to follow due process in extraditing Kyari, urging it to follow the extradition law of 2005.

Ikule, who spoke on whether Nigeria would cooperate with the U.S., said, “Nigeria has signed a lot of treaties with international communities. So if it requires appearing, yes, they will turn him over. If he is part of a transborder crime against the U.S., yes, he would be turned in. But Kyari needs to come out clean for the good of the police image.”

Femi Falana, on the other hand, challenged Kyari to submit himself to the U.S. if he is not guilty of the allegations against him.

“The United States and Nigeria have an extradition treaty which covers the offences allegedly committed by DCP Abba Kyari. If the police officer insists on his innocence, he may want to submit himself to the jurisdiction of the district court in the United States,” stated Falana. “Once the request is received by the federal government, the attorney general will commence extradition proceedings in the federal high court.”

While the nation waits with bated breath pending the outcome of the police panel’s investigation, the jury is still out on DCP Kyari and his well-reported illustrious career, given that he is innocent until proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

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