Ramon Abbas, the Nigerian Instagram celebrity with the nomenclature “Hushpuppi“, has been arraigned in an American court in California as his trial begins on October 13.
Mr Abbas pleaded not guilty to the four-count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering conspiracies, international money laundering and engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.
In June, the 37-year-old known for flaunting an opulent lifestyle on social media, was arrested in Dubai by special operatives of the Emerati police and American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The FBI’s investigation, according to the affidavit obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, alleged that Mr Abbas financed this extravagant lifestyle through crime.
He is alleged to be the leader of a group that facilitates computer intrusion, business email compromise (BEC) fraud and money laundering.
His targeted victims, majorly in the U.S, had been duped of hundreds of millions of dollars, the FBI says.
In July, Mr Abbas 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.
Since his transfer to California late July, he has been held in the custody of the U.S. Marshal in a federal prison.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor kickstarted the process of arraignment by filling necessary documents and forms after his first appearance on August 17.
After the pre-trial services, Mr Abbas entered a plea, insisting that he is not guilty of the charges.
In the documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Abbas agreed to go to trial with his lawyer, Vicki Podberesky, a top-rated lawyer in California.
Mrs Podberesky will be assisted by Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago-based lawyer appearing pro hac vice because he is not licensed to practise outside Chicago.
Nevertheless, he has pleaded that he should be prosecuted with complaint and not indictment. This he did by filing a waiver of indictment accepted by the court.
A complaint is the statement of the law enforcement agents containing essential facts of the offenses.
On the other hand, to obtain an indictment, a prosecutor must present proposed charges to a grand jury – a body of jurors that investigates crimes and decides whether charges should be filed.
His decision to opt for complaint might be borne out of the criticism that the grand jury is easily manipulated by the prosecutor, undermining its objectivity and fairness.
Mr Abbas and his counsel, Mrs Podberesky, are to appear before District Judge Otis D. Wright II by 9 a.m on October 13.
If convicted, the one-time Instagram sensation may spend the next 20 years in the U.S federal prison.