Nigeria: Exclusive - U.S. Govt Asks Court to Block Information On Hushpuppi's Victims, Others

Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, commonly known as Hushpuppi is a Nigerian Instagram celebrity who is facing criminal charges in the United States of conspiracy to launder money obtained from business email compromise frauds and other scams.

The information the U.S. authorities want to be protected include details concerning victims, yet-to-be-apprehended conspirators, and investigation techniques.

The United States government has asked for a court order to prevent the disclosure of certain 'sensitive' information relating to the fraud case involving Ramon Abass, a former Nigerian Instagram celebrity who is better known as Hushpuppi.

The information the authorities want to be protected include details concerning victims, yet-to-be-apprehended conspirators, and investigation techniques.

The specific pieces of information are contained in some documents the U.S. authorities are to hand over to Mr Abass' defence team ahead of the commencement of his trial in a U.S. District Court in California in May.

PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday obtained the application filed at the California court on February 26.

It was filed jointly by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, Anil Antony, and the defence counsel, Louis Shapiro.

U.S. authorities said the documents they intended to present to the defendant contained "sensitive information" such as the personal identifying information (PII) of real persons, including personal names, dates of birth, addresses, government identification numbers, financial account numbers, email addresses and photographs.

They added that the materials "might also contain information within the scope of the Privacy Act".

The application reads in part, "As part of its investigation in the above-captioned case, the government is in possession of documents related to the charges against defendant, and seeks to provide those documents to counsel for defendant (although some of the materials may exceed the scope of the government's discovery obligations).

"The government's discovery productions have consisted of, and future discovery productions will consist of, thousands of pages of documents, as well as additional audio and video files, forensic extractions of data from digital devices, and PDF and/or HTML files containing documents seized from online accounts."

In the application, it was also stated that the purpose of the proposed Protective Order was to prevent the unauthorised dissemination, distribution, or use of materials containing the sensitive information.

"If this Sensitive Information is disclosed to defendant without limitation, it will risk exposure of:(a) the privacy and security of the information's legitimate owners, (b) sensitive victim-related information; (c) information about uncharged subjects of the government's investigation and other law enforcement investigations, and (d) potentially sensitive law enforcement investigative techniques," the document added.

Proposed order

The prosecution and the defence teams attached a format of the proposed protective order to the application which is pending before Judge Otis Wright

"The defence team shall access and use Protected Discovery for the sole purpose of preparing for trial or any related proceedings in the above-captioned criminal matter, including any appeal and any motion filed by defendant pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §

2255, and for no other purpose," the proposed order read in part.

"Before being shown any portion of the Protected Discovery, however, any witness or witness' counsel must be informed of, and agree to be bound by, the requirements of the Protective Order. No witness or witness' counsel may retain the Protected Discovery, or any copy thereof, after his or her review of those materials with the defense team is complete," it added.

Hushpuppi's travails

In June 2020, the 37-year-old Hushpuppi known for flaunting his opulent lifestyle on social media was arrested in Dubai by some special operatives including the Emirati police officers and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operatives.

The FBI's investigation, according to the affidavit obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, revealed that Mr Abbas finances this extravagant lifestyle through crime.

He is alleged to be the leader of a 'mafia' that facilitated computer intrusion, Business Email Compromise (BEC) fraud and money laundering. His targeted victims, majorly in the U.S., were reportedly duped hundreds of millions of dollars.

In July, Mr Abass alongside Olalekan Ponle, popularly known as Woodberry, was extradited to Chicago in the United States where he was first arraigned.

However, because the U.S Court in Illinois does not have jurisdiction over the case, he was transferred to Los Angeles, a city in California, where his trial will commence in May.

At the pretrial stage, 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 activities.

On September 23, 2020, Judge Wright ordered that the jury trial that was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic would continue by 9 a.m. on May 4.

If convicted, Mr Abass might spend the next 20 years in the U.S. federal prison.

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