An Instagram influencer who attracted millions of followers with pictures of a glamorous jet-setting lifestyle has been arrested by Dubai police amid claims of a £350m cyberscam.
Raymond Abbas – a Nigerian known to his 2.4 million Instagram followers as “Hushpuppi” – was detained on Thursday night as part of an investigation into money-laundering, cyber fraud, hacking and scamming.
Eleven other suspects were detained during coordinated early morning raids in an operation comprised of officers from the FBI, Interpol and Dubai police. Detectives seized more than 150 million dirham (£30 million) when they swooped on the 38-year-old’s apartment as he slept.
Investigators allege Abbas, a former second-hand clothes trader in Nigeria‘s capital Lagos, used his Instagram account to project a billionaire’s luxurious lifestyle to attract followers and lure in potential victims.
Officers say they found the email addresses of nearly two million victims on dozens of phones, computers and hard drives. More than a dozen luxury cars were seized in the raid along with suitcases full of cash.
“After verifying available information, the team [tracked] the gang including ‘Hushpuppi’, who celebrated his wealth via social media…under a businessman facade, in an attempt to lure victims from all over the world,” Jamal Salem Al Jallaf, director of the criminal investigation department of Dubai Police, said in a statement.
“The suspects also targeted victims overseas by creating fake websites for well-known companies and banks in a bid to steal victims’ credit card information and then launder the stolen money.”
Investigators say they recovered documents evidencing fraud “on a global scale” worth 1.6 billion dirham (£352 million).
The operation, codenamed Fox Hunt 2, came after months of investigation into the group’s activities. Mr Al Jallaf said that detectives in the anti-cybercrime task force were able to track down gang members through false accounts they had created on social media.
Mr Abbas, whose arrest reportedly came after he added a white Rolls Royce to his fleet of luxury cars, once posted a video of himself throwing $100 bills as confetti at a wedding.
It is understood that a large proportion of the alleged victims reside in the US, but Mr Abbas is also accused of committing fraud in Europe, America and Nigeria, according to police. He claims to be a property developer but many in Nigeria have become sceptical of his meteoric rise from clothes trader to billionaire real-estate tycoon, according to local media.
Mr Abbas previously said he posted photos of his lavish lifestyle to Instagram to help inspire others.
“I post a few of these things so that someone can see my page someday and decide not to give up,” he wrote in one post.
Dubai media reports that Mr Abbas will be extradited to Nigeria to face charges and his arrest is being used as a warning to deter other would-be scammers. Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari vowed to crack down on scammers after assuming office in 2015, citing the country’s growing problem with the issues
His spokesperson told The Times: “The action of a single Nigerian is not the action of all Nigerians . . . who are hardworking and honest people. We should not be tagged ‘fraudulent people’ for the misdeeds of a few.”