Abdulrahman Imraan Juma

Abdulrahman Imraan Juma.

| Pool

How Kenyan in Sh2.5bn fraud was lured by FBI

A Kenyan was the mastermind of a global wire fraud that led to the arrest and downfall of the world’s most famous con artist – Nigerian influencer Ramon Abass alias Hushpuppi – and Nigeria’s Deputy Commissioner of Police Alhaji Kyari, who are in American custody over schemes in which victims across the world lost more than US$24m(Sh2.5bn).

Of the amount, the Kenyan is accused of playing a part in US$1 million (Sh100 million) fraud.

Abdulrahman Imraan Juma, alias Abdul, and Nigerians Hushpuppi, Kyari, Kelly Chibuzo, Rukayat Motunray and Bolatito Tawakalitu were on Thursday night indicted by the United States government for defrauding a Qatari investor by pretending they would help him get a $15 million (Sh1.6 billion) loan.

Hushpuppi, also known as the Gucci Master due to his love for expensive designer clothes and other luxury items, and whose extravagant lifestyle catapulted him to near-global celebrity status, pleaded guilty to money laundering in February.

The United States Department of Justice only made his guilty plea on Thursday night, almost a year since he was arrested commando-style from a penthouse in Dubai, his adopted home away from Lagos where he grew up as the son of a taxi driver father and bread seller mother,

In the years preceding his arrest, however, Hushpuppi had turned himself into some form of social media icon through his Instagram page, which had turned into a canvas of luxurious living and a source of motivational quotes for his two million followers.

What many people did not know is that the billionaire Gucci Master who portrayed himself as a real estate investor in Nigeria was the kingpin of a global Business Email Compromise (BEC) syndicate with members in more than a dozen countries.

BEC scams are a new sophisticated type of cyber-enabled crime facilitated by the Internet where fraudsters use hacked email accounts to convince businesses or individuals to make payments that are either bogus or similar to actual payments owed to legitimate companies.

As part of the scam, fraudsters learn about key personnel in companies who are responsible for payments as well as the protocols necessary to perform wire transfers in companies and then target the businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments.

Fraudsters then direct their victims to wire funds to fake third party accounts belonging to ‘money mules’ who then launder the money to the masterminds through bouncing the cash in different accounts across the world.

Court papers and investigation files acquired by the Nation for this particular case show that the scam that has led to Hushpuppi’s downfall was created in Nairobi by Juma. He then roped in Abbas who was based in Dubai. Abbas then recruited Chibuzo and Bolatito who were in Lagos, and Monturay who was in the US as mules.

Nigerian police boss Abba Kyari.

Nigerian police boss Abba Kyari.

Photo credit: Pool

The victim is a Qatari businessman who was looking for a financier for a $15 million international school he wanted to build in Doha. He hired a financial adviser who began scouting the world for someone who would be willing to finance his project. During the search the financial adviser stumbled on someone in the Philippines who claimed he could get a company that will get the money.

That company turned out to be Westload Financial Solutions Ltd based in Flamingo Towers, Upper Hill, Nairobi, under the leadership of Juma alias Abdul.

“On November 12, 2019, the Financial Adviser and the victim travelled to Kenya to meet in person with Juma,” Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Andrew John Innocenti said in his affidavit about the case.

“During this meeting, the victim signed a contract with Westload. The contract stated that the victim was responsible for paying a “consultancy fee” of $225,000 (Sh24 million) through the law firm Okatch & Partners (“Okatch”), which was located in Kenya,” said Mr Innocenti.

The payment was to be made in two instalments — an initial payment of $157,500 (Sh17m) and a second payment for $67,500 (Sh7m). Westload also provided two initial invoices; one for $157,500 for the first instalment and another for $6,900, for purported legal and initial engagement fees.

Okatch and Partners Advocates was to act as an agent between the two parties. As agreed, before leaving Nairobi the victim wired $164,450 (Sh17.7m) to the law firm in four separate transactions. Two weeks later, Juma sent to the victim a fake wire transfer confirmation showing that he had received the $15 million he was looking for through the Qatar National Bank (QNB).

On December 4, the victim, on learning that there were no such funds in his account, called Juma to find out what had gone wrong. Then the games began. First, Juma told the victim that he needed to pay a ‘payment release order’ of $150,000 (Sh16.2m) for the money to be cleared from a bank in the UK where it was being sent on.

It was at this point that Abbas was brought in due to his global expertise in defrauding people. Abbas immediately agreed to join the scam, saying he would come in as a director at Wells Fargo bank by the name Malik but he had one question; how the proceeds would be split.

“What I had in mind was if there’s $150,000, I get $50,000 and your guys get $100,000,” proposed Abbas.

Immediately, Juma informed the victim that “Mr Malik from the US” would be contacting him with a solution on how to get the $15 million in his account. Before calling the victim, Abbas informed his contacts in the US to open a fake bank account that they would use to convince him that the money had been transferred.

When he called the victim, Abbas told him that in order to sort out the mess, he would need to open a bank account in the US where the money would be wired to. He also offered to do it on his behalf since the victim was far away and Abbas, as ‘Malik’, was a senior bank personnel with good clearance levels. The victim agreed and a bank account was immediately set up with his company’s name.

Satisfied with the progress they had made, Abbas reported to Juma, “He is so happy. I had a white guy call him from America now … Real white man.”

Around the same time, the victim texted Juma saying that he had talked to “Mr Malik from the US” and that he had confirmed that the US bank account would be set up and the $15 million loan would be transferred to London after clearing the US bank account.

What had actually happened is that Abbas’s conspirators had registered a company with a name similar to the Qatari’s and used it to open an account at Wells Fargo branch in Canoga Park, California. To make the whole thing look genuine, Abbas sent the victim a document asking him to give them ‘power of attorney’ over the account. He then sent the victim online login information for the bank account, asking him to log in.

A few days later Abbas changed tune and told the victim that it would be impossible to send the $15 million to his personal bank account, which they had opened for him, since the account needed to be activated with a minimum $250,000 (Sh27m).

At that point, the victim became hesitant, insisting he wanted to speak to Juma. On sensing he would be defrauded if the money was wired to the US, Juma told the victim to hold on.

“This led to an argument between Abbas and Juma regarding a “commission payment” that was supposed to belong to Juma,” said the FBI.

“Bro, don’t let me be wasting my time, how are u telling the client not to pay?” Abbas asked Juma in a text message that the FBI retrieved from his phone and is part of the documents filed in court.

Eventually, on December 23, 2019, the victim agreed to send additional money. Immediately Abbas contacted two mules he had worked with before in Nigeria that he wanted to receive the $250,000 on his behalf and then take out their share before wiring the rest of the money to him. They deal failed because they could not agree on how to split the money. The mules wanted 50 per cent of the money. Abbas saw this as a rip-off.

Unable to find who will receive the money, he contacted a luxury watch maker in Florida, US, with a request to make what is still his most flamboyant purchase ever; a Richard Mille RM 11-03 watch.

“On December 23, 2019, the Florida watch seller sent Abbas multiple photographs of Richard Mille watches, and told him, “New Rose Gold Titanium $230, Full Rose $265, New Full Rose $275,” said the FBI.

Abbas chose the rose gold and titanium model and immediately told the victim to wire $230,000 to the watch seller. The victim did that immediately. There was however a red flag during the wire transfer, and it is what got the FBI interested.

When making the transfer, the victim said the money was for a ‘school’ yet it was being sent to a watch seller. Curiously the matter was sorted out and the watch was soon on its way to Dubai, not as a parcel – it was being ferried by a person.

At that point, Juma did not know that after introducing Abbas to what was a mouthwatering deal, he had effectively also been defrauded by a global master of the con game. It is this watch that would lead to a falling out in the group and its eventual downfall.

Unknown to Abbas, as the watch was being escorted to Dubai on a first-class ticket, the FBI was also watching.

Tomorrow: How greed and a love for flamboyance made the gang of global fraudsters begin backstabbing one another as the FBI closed in on them, plus how the group was eventually brought down.