The Instagram-Fueled Rise and Fall of Nigerian Influencer Hushpuppi

  • Nigerian influencer Ramon Abbas, also referred to as Hushpuppi, was identified for flaunting his wealth on-line.
  • In an affidavit, the FBI alleges his way of life was funded by a collection of cybercrimes, together with cash laundering and fraud.
  • The Dubai police raided his residence in 2020 and launched a extremely stylized video of the raid.

On the floor, Hushpuppi appeared identical to each different wealthy Instagrammer with thousands and thousands of followers and thousands and thousands to spend.

A Richard Mille watch. A Rolls-Royce Wraith. Purchasing baggage from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Chanel. You title it, the Nigerian influencer — actual title Ramon Abbas — had it, and he confirmed it.

And whereas the web flexing introduced him 2 million followers, it additionally led the FBI proper to his doorstep. On November 7, Abbas, 40, was sentenced to 135 months in federal jail for cash laundering and web fraud.

Insider tried to succeed in Abbas for remark for this story through his attorneys. Louis Shapiro, one among his attorneys, declined to remark. John O. Iweanoge, II, Abbas’ different lawyer, didn’t reply to Insider’s request for remark.

A ‘Yahoo’ boy from the slums of Nigeria

Abbas grew up in a poor neighborhood of Lagos, the biggest metropolis in Nigeria. A driver named Seye, who knew him as a toddler, informed the BBC that Abbas’ father was a taxi driver and that his mom labored on the market.

By Abbas’ personal account — detailed in a handwritten letter, dated September 9, to the decide overseeing his trial — he began promoting sneakers and clothes out of his automobile trunk in his neighborhood over 25 years in the past. As his style enterprise grew, Abbas was in a position to open boutiques across the metropolis.

However everybody else, Seye informed the BBC, knew Abbas made cash by different means. 

Abbas was a “Yahoo” boy, Seye stated, referring to a time period used to explain individuals who had been concerned in cybercrime, resembling web fraud and love scams.

“Hushpuppi grew up in my neighborhood, in Bariga,” Adedeji Oyenuga, an affiliate professor on the Sociology division at Lagos State College, informed Insider. The neighborhood was thought-about a slum, with many individuals residing in poverty.

A shanty slum built on stilts in the Bariga waterfront fishing community in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital.

A shanty slum constructed on stilts within the Bariga waterfront fishing neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria’s business capital.

FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR/AFP through Getty Photographs



As a part of his Ph.D. analysis, Oyenuga spent six years residing amongst a bunch of Yahoo boys in Abbas’ neighborhood.

Yahoo boys are usually aged 15 and above, Oyenuga stated. Some left faculty early. Others accomplished components of their formal schooling however had been unable to safe a spot at a college or a job.

“They’ve quite a lot of consciousness about what the world has to supply, however nice frustration that they can not discover it for themselves due to unemployment and different thwarted alternatives to make a residing,” Daniel Smith, a professor on the Anthropology division of Brown College, informed Insider concerning the causes some younger Nigerians get blended up in crime.

Only a few succeed due to cybercrime — a lot much less get to a degree like Abbas’, Smith stated. 

Remodeling into the influencer referred to as Hushpuppi

In 2014, Abbas left Nigeria for Kuala Lumpur, the capital metropolis of Malaysia, the BBC reported.

It was round this time that his Hushpuppi on-line persona took off, per Bloomberg.

A screenshot of one of Abbas’ Instagram post, obtained by the FBI as part of their investigation into his crimes. Abbas enjoyed flaunting his ill-gotten wealth online, posing alongside expensive vehicles while wearing luxury clothing.

Within the affidavit, the FBI drew consideration to the “tons of” of photographs on Abbas’ Instagram account exhibiting him “in designer clothes and footwear, posing on or in luxurious autos, carrying high-end watches, or possessing different luxurious gadgets, indicating substantial wealth.” It included the picture above for instance.

Hushpuppi on Instagram/FBI



The captions on his now-defunct Instagram account had been a mixture of motivational knowledge and hashtags exhibiting off the posh manufacturers that he wore within the photographs. 

“Everyone is a genius. However should you decide a fish by its capability to climb a tree, it’s going to stay it is complete life believing that it’s silly. #versace #versacemedusa #Versaceshoes #Versacebelt #Versacering #versacesneakers #Medusa #sneakers #sneakerhead #SneakerRoleModel,” learn the caption on a now-unavailable publish on Abbas’ Instagram account, per Bloomberg.

Again in Nigeria, Abbas’ Instagram presence turned him into a celeb of kinds. He was seen rubbing shoulders with well-known Nigerian musicians and outstanding native politicians, the Pidgin-language service of BBC Information reported in July 2020.

Social media posts catch the FBI’s consideration

Abbas moved to Dubai and continued to add photographs of himself posing with luxurious autos and personal jets whereas decked out in designer gear. 

Insider scanned by pages of court docket paperwork, outdated media reviews, and retail websites to place collectively an image of Abbas’ spending habits. Among the many gadgets that made an look on his Instagram web page: a black Bentley Bentayga (retail value beginning at $160,000), a Disney x Gucci assortment T-shirt ($650 and up), and a Richard Mille RM11-03 watch ($230,000). 

Screenshots of Abbas’ Instagram posts where he flaunted his Richard Mille watch, obtained by the FBI as part of their investigation into his crimes.

Screenshots of Abbas’ Instagram posts the place he flaunted his Richard Mille watch, obtained by the FBI as a part of their investigation into his crimes. The FBI later found that Abbas used cash he scammed out of an Qatari businessman to purchase the watch.

Hushpuppi on Instagram/FBI



Everybody scrolling by his public Instagram profile may see the extent of his cash — together with the FBI.

“We now have lots of people on the FBI who’re continually wanting by open supply media and different intelligence knowledge to determine investigations that we must be going after, and that is a kind of examples,” FBI particular agent Andrew Innocenti, who was concerned within the case, informed Insider. 

Way back to 2019, Nigerian media shops had been speculating that Abbas was a fraudster and a Yahoo boy, Innocenti stated. These reviews plus his social media presence gave Innocenti and the FBI an inkling that one thing may very well be amiss, he added.

In October 2019, one among Abbas’ co-conspirators in on-line scams was arrested in a distinct investigation, however the police uncovered communications between the 2, Innocenti stated. 

Finally, Abbas’ social-media pages had been used as proof to determine fees in opposition to him, per the FBI affidavit filed in opposition to Abbas by Innocenti in June 2020.

The FBI was in a position to hyperlink the telephone quantity that Abbas used to speak together with his co-conspirator to an e-mail deal with that he used to create his Hushpuppi Instagram and Snapchat accounts.

The FBI was even ready to make use of his birthday posts to confirm his title and date of beginning in opposition to his earlier US visa utility.

A kind of posts, uploaded to Instagram on October 11, 2017, featured a cake that stated “Completely happy Birthday Ramon” and the caption “Thanks a lot @gucci for this particular. God bless you guys on the Dubai Mall Gucci Retailer!!!,” per the affidavit.

In response to the affidavit, Abbas “funds this opulent way of life by crime,” by concentrating on victims world wide “in schemes designed to steal tons of of thousands and thousands of {dollars}.”

In a single scheme in January 2019, Abbas allegedly labored with a co-conspirator to launder $14.7 million that North Korean hackers stole from a financial institution in Malta, per a assertion from the US Lawyer’s Workplace for the Central District of California.

In one other scheme, Abbas and his co-conspirators allegedly tried to steal $100 million from an unnamed Premier League soccer membership by intercepting funds utilizing faux emails, per the affidavit.

The Dubai police caught as much as him in June 2020, and so they launched a stylized video of the raid.

 

It featured Abbas’ Instagram photographs spliced along with footage of the police barging into his house, and cybercrime-style graphics layered over clips of individuals typing away at computer systems — a flashy finish to the showy Instagram star. 

‘Proceed to disgrace these ready to disgrace me’

Whereas Abbas’ story has captivated the world, Smith, the Brown College professor, stated it is necessary to not let the eye additional contribute to stereotypes that exist about Nigeria.

“Most Nigerians do not hope that their nation goes succeed due to crime,” Smith stated. “Individuals would a lot fairly have extra reputable methods of creating a residing.”

In some methods, Abbas’ story matches proper into the worldwide narrative of on-line wealth-flaunting — inherited, acquired, earned, and ill-begotten alike. In others, Abbas’ story matches proper in with that of the Yahoo boys he grew up with in Nigeria.

Most of the younger males who made cash by unlawful means flaunted it all over the place — not simply on-line, Oyenuga, the Lagos State College professor, stated. In the event that they made sufficient cash, there was an opportunity they might transfer to a brand new neighborhood and re-establish themselves as an individual who obtained wealthy by reputable means, he added.

One factor, nonetheless, is obvious to Innocenti: Abbas was good on the social-media sport.

“Anyone like this does not change into as well-known and as prolific as Abbas was except he knew what he was doing. He capitalized on alternatives early in life and he utilized social media in a very efficient strategy to acquire followers,” Innocenti stated.

After his arrest, Abbas even gained a further 200,000 to 300,000 followers earlier than Instagram took down his Hushpuppi account, Innocenti stated.

Abbas was on prime of his social-media sport up till the very finish, per Bloomberg.

On June 7, 2020, he posted a photograph of a white Rolls Royce with the caption, “Might success and prosperity not be a ‘as soon as upon a time’ story in your life… Thanks lord for the numerous blessings in my life. Proceed to disgrace these ready for me to be shamed #RollsRoyce #RoyceRoyceCullinan #RR #AllMine.”

Two days later, the Dubai police was at his door.

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