People & Money

Hushpuppi Linked to Another Scam with N.Korean Hackers

A fresh criminal charge has surfaced against Instagram influencer, Ramon Abbas popularly known as Hushpuppi in the United States, where he is currently standing trial for conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from “business email compromise” (BEC) frauds and other scams.

The Department of Justice last week said that the Nigeria-born alleged fraudster worked with North Korean hackers to launder funds stolen from a Maltese bank. Hushpuppi is said to have taken part in a “North Korean-perpetrated cyber-enabled heist from a Maltese bank in February 2019.”

The Justice Department referred to the attack as “a $14.7 million cyber-heist from a foreign financial institution,” as reported by Forbes. Both the date and amount match that of the attack on Malta’s Bank of Valletta in February 2019.

Abbas, known for a flamboyant lifestyle and flaunting of expensive clothes, cars, and money on Instagram between 2012 and 2020, was charged in July by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles after he was arrested in Dubai the previous month.

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Gal Pissetzky, Abbas’ then-lawyer had, in his defence, described Abbas as “an entrepreneur” who made his money legitimately through “real estate” and his work “promoting brands” as an “Instagram personality.”

New details in the charge have now linked him to one specific part of the “broad array of criminal cyber activities undertaken by the conspiracy,” namely money laundering and the attack on a “foreign financial institution” involving North Korean hackers.

The influencer’s name appeared in details of “a series of destructive cyberattacks, to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion of money and cryptocurrency from financial institutions and companies,” involving North Korean military hackers, DOJ said.

Deputy Director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Paul Abbate, said Wednesday’s unsealed indictment expands the FBI’s 2018 charges for the “unprecedented cyberattacks conducted by the North Korean regime.” 

“As laid out in today’s indictment, North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,” added John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney-General of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

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The U.S. accuses North Koreans – Jon Chang Hyok, 31, Kim Il, 27, and Park Jin Hyok, 36, of being members of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), a military intelligence agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Koreans are described in the statement as being connected to “North Korean military hacking units” known in the cybersecurity community as Lazarus Group and Advanced Persistent Threat 38 (APT38).

Hushpuppi was linked to the North Korean conspiracy this week when federal prosecutors unsealed a charge against Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, of Ontario, Canada. Alaumary pleaded guilty to charges related to his role as a money launderer for the North Korean group filed in November 2020. 

The attack, although largely unsuccessful, was so serious in Malta that the country’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, had to address parliament in 2019 over what the Times of Malta described as the “creation of false international payments that saw €13 million transferred to banks in four countries.” The amounts were reportedly “traced” and “reversed” and none of the bank’s customers lost their money.

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