Olalekan Adetayo, John Alechenu, Sunday Aborisade and Jesusegun Alagbe
Three countries, the United States of America, India and Ghana, have written respectively to the Federal Government requesting the extradition of 11 Nigerians, a report has revealed.
The cases for which the Nigerians are wanted in the foreign countries include money laundering, obtaining under false pretences, fraud as well as drug-related offences.
The report, titled ‘Ministerial Performance Report May 2019 – May 2020’ was prepared by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and presented to the Federal Executive Council.
According to the report, the ministry’s Department of International Cooperation received eight extradition requests from US; three from Ghana and one from India between May 2019 and May 2020.
The report said the department also received 62 requests for assistance in investigation under the Mutual Legal Assistance Nigeria signed with the named countries.
The ministry noted that it had sent letters to INTERPOL to locate the persons named in some of the extradition requests, adding, however, that it rejected the only extradition request from India which involved a case of alleged money laundering concerning four Indians.
“The request was denied by the HAGF (Honourable Attorney General of the Federation) because the offences allegedly committed by the suspects appeared to be political in nature.
“Letter denying the request was sent to India,” the report read.
The report noted that 42 Memoranda of Understanding and agreements between Nigeria and other countries were vetted during the period, while the ministry’s Department of Public Prosecutions received 1,120 terrorism-related cases in one year.
It noted further that 500 of the 1,120 cases had been filed at the Federal High Court “while others have been recommended for de-radicalisation.”
The ministry is projecting that by December, about 250 cases would have been concluded while all the cases would have been concluded by 2023.
It added that over 3,392 general/financial matters-related cases were received from the Nigeria Police for prosecution at the magistrate courts due to the enactment of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
It added, “We are happy to report that over 1,000 of these cases have been completed in the magistrate courts, with the defendants sentenced to various years in the correctional services.”
While noting that more cases were being received daily, the ministry projected that about 2,500 cases would have been completed by December.
The ministry added that it was currently prosecuting 1,359 cases of conspiracy/armed robbery and 10 cases of Securities and Exchange Commission-related offences.
On hostage taking and kidnapping, the report indicated that the ministry had 10 cases in court while it was also handling seven cases of pipeline vandalism and 10 cases of electricity equipment vandalism.
The ministry said it had 25 pending cases before the Court of Appeal and 10 cases before the Supreme Court.
The report warned the nation’s anti-corruption agencies against what it called media trials.
It said, “The ministry has approvals in place for several of its programmes, but such approvals need to be backed by prompt release of funds to enable proper execution.
“Note that ACAs (anti-corruption agencies) need to recognise that their prosecutorial mandates derive from the constitutional powers of the HAGF, hence the need for their compliance with requests that will facilitate the coordination mandate and the need for inter-agency cooperation to preserve the integrity of the prosecution processes.
“ACAs also need to desist from ‘media trials’ especially where investigations have yet to reveal tangible evidence that will sustain charges when filed in court.”
How FBI agents uncovered Hushpuppi, Woodberry’s N168bn frauds
Meanwhile, details have emerged on how suspected cybercriminals, Ramon Abbas (aka Hushpuppi) and Olalekan Ponle (aka Woodberry or Mark Kain), perpetrated frauds amounting to over $435m (N168bn).
The details came to light in separate affidavits attested to by Special Agents with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Innocenti and Ali Sadiq. Both agents were employed by the FBI in 2015.
The affidavit signed by Innocenti was attested to before Judge Rozella Oliver of the US District Court, Central District of California on June 25 while Sadiq’s affidavit was attested to before Judge Young Kim of the US District Court, Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division also on June 25.
In the affidavits, the FBI agents detailed how the suspected cyber criminals connived with others across the world, defrauding millions of people in business email compromise schemes, laundering the proceeds of their crimes and living an opulent lifestyle in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.
Hushpuppi, Woodberry, and their accomplices were on June 10 arrested at their luxury Palazzo Versace apartment by officials of the Dubai Police and Interpol for a series of crimes such as money laundering, fraud, hacking of websites and accounts, impersonation and banking fraud.
The suspects reportedly scammed over 1.9 million persons in a fraudulent scheme worth $435m (N168bn). Thirteen luxury cars, estimated at N3.7bn, 21 laptops, 47 smartphones, 15 storage devices and five hard disk containing data were recovered from the house where they were arrested.
On Thursday, the Dubai Police handed over Hushpuppi and Woodberry to the FBI and the suspects were extradited to the US.
He appeared in a US court on Friday and faced criminal charges of conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from BEC frauds and other scams, including schemes targeting a US law firm, a foreign bank, and an English Premier League soccer club.
Meanwhile, in an affidavit, Innocenti, who is currently assigned to the High-Tech Organised Crime Squad, Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI, unfolded how the messages found on the iPhones of two Abbas’ co-conspirators showed that he was involved in multiple BEC frauds.
The FBI agent’s affidavit revealed that the bureau worked with Apple, Google, Instagram, and Snap to track Abbas’ financial transactions and locate his Dubai residence.
He said, “Analysis of Abbas’ co-conspirator 1’s iPhone and other online accounts showed that co-conspirator 1 operated and tasked money mule crews for a number of fraudulent schemes, including BEC schemes and cyber-heists. The analysis also showed that co-conspirator 1 communicated with the UAE phone number +971543777711 (phone number 1) about multiple fraudulent schemes and money laundering.
“As described below, phone number 1 was one of the phone numbers Abbas used during 2019 and 2020. Based on my review (pursuant to federal search warrants obtained in this District) of data from co-conspirator 1’s iPhone and from an online account connected to that phone (the “Online Account”), other law enforcement personnel’s review of that digital data and from discussions with the United States Secret Service (“USSS”) and FBI personnel, I know the following:
“Co-conspirator 1’s iPhone listed Phone Number 1 (+971543777711) with the contact name ‘Hush.’ The phone also contained a contact for Snapchat username ‘hushpuppi5,’ which listed the Snapchat contact name ‘The Billionaire Gucci Master!!!’
“Searches of Phone Number 1 and the contact name ‘Hush’ in co-conspirator 1’s iPhone revealed messaging conversations between ‘Hush,’ using Phone Number 1, and co-conspirator 1.”
Innocenti further revealed how he was able to trace Hushpuppi to his Dubai residence via his Instagram account.
He said, “The Instagram profile claimed that the user was a real estate developer and listed the user’s Snapchat account as ‘Hushpuppi5,’ which is the same Snapchat account name that was saved in co-conspirator 1’s iPhone.
“Based on records from Instagram received in June 2020, the Instagram account was subscribed with the name ‘RAY,’ the email address ‘[email protected],’ and the verified phone number +971502818689 (‘Phone Number 2’). The Instagram account was created on October 10, 2012, and recent account history from 2020 showed logins from Internet Protocol (‘IP’) addresses located in the UAE.
“Based on subscriber records from Snap Inc., the Snapchat account ‘Hushpuppi5’ used the phone number +971565505984 (‘Phone Number 3’) and the email address [email protected] (i.e., the same email as the Instagram account). The Snapchat account used the display name ‘The Billionaire Gucci Master!!!,’ which was the same Snapchat contact name saved in co-conspirator 1’s phone for the Snapchat account ‘Hushpuppi5.’”
The US Department of Justice on Friday said if convicted of conspiracy to engage in money laundering, Abbas faced a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Similarly, in the affidavit filed by Sadiq against Ponle, aka Woodberry, the suspect was alleged of wire fraud conspiracy and BEC frauds. The agent said between January 2019 and September 2019, Ponle conspired with others to engage in BEC schemes to defraud several US-based companies.
He said, “Proceeds from BEC schemes, ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars, were then wired by unwitting employees to the bank accounts opened by Ponle’s mules. Ponle then instructed the mules to convert the proceeds to Bitcoin and to send the proceeds of the BEC schemes to a bitcoin wallet that he owned and operated.”
Sadiq revealed that Ponle was tracked based on messaging conversations with one of his money mules in the US, simply identified as Individual B.
He said, “‘Mark Kain’ contacted Individual B using the telephone number (323) 985-4088. Based on my review of chat transcripts from online messaging applications between Ponle and Individual B and a second money mule, Individual A, ‘Mark’ instructed Individual B and Individual A to send money to the bitcoin wallet 16AtGJbaxL2kmzx4m W5ocpT2ysTWxmacWn (“the 16AtGJ BTC Wallet”) on at least nine occasions. Records obtained from Bitpay, a processor of cryptocurrency transactions, indicated that between approximately September 18, 2015, and November 29, 2016, the 16AtGJ BTC wallet made five purchases associated with the Gmail account [email protected][.]com (the ‘hustle Gmail account’).
“Based on my review of records from Apple, Subject Account 1 contained several identity documents and photographs of Ponle. These included a photo of a Nigerian passport with a photo of an individual named Olalekan Jacob Ponle, born in May 1991 in Lagos, Nigeria, a photo of a United Arab Emirates visa with a photo of an individual named Olalekan Jacob Ponle with the profession, ‘marketing.’”
APC, Atiku, Saraki clash over link with Hushpuppi
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and the immediate past Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, clashed on Saturday over calls by the APC for anti-graft agencies to probe reports linking Hushpuppi to ranking members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
In a statement titled ‘Criminal conspiracy linking Hushpuppi with PDP leadership should be investigated,’ signed by its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, in Abuja, on Saturday, the APC said the opposition PDP turned Dubai into a hub for its “strategic meetings” ahead of the 2019 general elections.
It also said the party’s leaders including Atiku, Saraki, the former Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and Senator Dino Melaye, took photographs with the suspect.
Nabena’s statement read in part, “Reports of the criminal conspiracy linking the top echelon of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party 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 schemes should be a matter of serious interest to relevant authorities in Nigeria.
“We note that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has already declared the arraigned Instagram celebrity wanted over fraud allegations.”
He called on the EFCC, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit and other sister agencies to investigate alleged money laundering reports which he said linked some PDP leaders and the suspect.
The statement added, “That the PDP leadership turned Dubai into their ‘strategic’ meeting place ahead of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria and ‘Hushpuppi’s’ affinity with the PDP leadership is not mere coincidence.
“At different times, Hushpuppi was photographed in Dubai meeting with the PDP’s 2019 presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; former Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; and Senator Dino Melaye, among other PDP stalwarts.
“While relevant authorities investigate the nature of their relationship and business partnership, we also challenge the PDP leadership to do the same by opening up on the nature of the relationship, particularly the kind of services the arrested “Hushpuppi” provided them.”
But, Atiku’s Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, in a series of tweets via his verified Twitter account ‘Justice Paul Ibe’ (@omonlakiki), on Saturday, accused the APC of mischief and insensitivity to the national embarrassment the activities of persons like the suspect had caused Nigerians.
He wrote, “It is curious that the All Progressives Congress is mischievously trying to link Atiku Abubakar to the alleged fraudster, Hushpuppi, simply because he was photographed with Atiku at an event where many Nigerians were gathered.”
He added, “For the avoidance of doubt, it was a mere photo-op and not at any meeting as being ingloriously speculated. 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.”
In yet another tweet, he wrote, “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.”
Saraki knocks APC for linking him with Hushpuppi
Also responding, Saraki described the APC’s statement which linked him with the cyber-crime suspect as irresponsible and cheap blackmail.
Saraki, in a statement by his media adviser, Yusuph Olaniyonu, in Abuja, on Saturday, said he didn’t know the suspect and certainly had no relationship of any kind with him.
The statement read in part, “The statement credited to the APC, the ruling party in our country, is one of the ways by which our anti-graft agencies are weakened and why the fight against corruption in the country is often viewed with suspicion by the international community.
“This is because when these cyber-crime suspects were operating freely and openly displaying wealth, the APC saw nothing bad in their activities. Also, the party, at that time, did not deem it necessary to call on the anti-graft agencies to investigate their activities.
“Since the arrest of those cyber-crime suspects and the subsequent damage to the image and the economy of Nigeria as well as the crisis it created for Nigerians engaged in lawful business across the world, the ruling party had been muted (sic).
“The only time the APC deemed it necessary to make a statement was when it thought it should play dirty, cheap and irresponsible politics.”
The statement said Saraki was the only political leader who had publicly made a statement through an opinion article in a national newspaper, titled ‘Cyber Criminals: Confronting the few who dent many.’
The statement added, “In that article, he strongly condemned the activities of these cyber criminals and called on the law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders to make decisive interventions to checkmate their activities.
“He has also got a research institution, the Politeia Institute, whose board he chairs to commence research on the best ways to tackle the menace. Such a noble intervention in tackling a menace is what Dr Saraki believes in, not mudslinging and playing politics at the expense of the nation’s image.
“At this point, we call on the APC leadership to rein in on the so-called Yekini Nabena and compel him to desist from making and circulating such malicious, odious and offensive claims.”
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