On social media, where he posted a video of himself throwing bundles of tickets like confetti, he told his supporters that he was a real estate developer. But a federal affidavit alleged that his extravagant lifestyle was funded by hacking schemes that had stolen millions of dollars from large companies in the United States and Europe.
His flamboyant testimony left a digital record of evidence that investigators were using to link the crimes to him, the affidavit shows.
Last month, investigators from the United Arab Emirates rushed to his apartment in Dubai, arrested him, and handed him over to FBI agents, who took him to Chicago on July 2, federal officials said.
$ 41 million and 13 luxury cars seized
The Nigerian national ran a global network that used computer hacks, commercial email compromise schemes and money laundering to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from businesses, federal prosecutors said.
He worked with several accomplices and was arrested with 11 other people. Investigators seized nearly $ 41 million, 13 luxury cars worth $ 6.8 million, and telephone and computer evidence, Dubai police said in a statement. They discovered the email addresses of nearly 2 million possible victims on phones, computers and hard drives, said Dubai officials.
“This case targets a key player in a large transnational conspiracy who led an affluent life in another country while providing safe havens for stolen money around the world,” said US prosecutor Nick Hanna in a statement.
Abbas’ lawyer Gal Pissetzky refused to go into details about how his client earns his money. But what he does for a living is going to be “one of the main points of contention here,” he told CNN..
Pissetzky called his client’s arrest kidnapping, saying that Dubai had turned him over to the United States “without any legal process.” Abbas has not been formally charged and the government has 30 days to charge him, his lawyer said Thursday.
Flamboyant messages helped find him
Abbas made no secret of his opulent lifestyle and remarkable wealth. On Snapchat, he called himself the “billionaire Gucci Master”.
“I started my day with sushi at Nobu in Monte Carlo, Monaco, then I decided to book a helicopter to have… facials at the Christian Dior spa in Paris, then I ended my day with champagne at Gucci, “he posted on Instagram three. years ago.
Photos of him showing several Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes and Rolls Royce car models included the hashtag #AllMine. Others show him rubbing his elbows with international sports stars and other celebrities.
In the affidavit, federal officials explained in detail how his social media accounts provided a wealth of information to confirm his identity. Her Instagram, for example, had saved an email and phone number for account security purposes. Federal officials obtained this information and linked this email and phone number to financial transactions and transfers with people the FBI believed were their accomplices.
“The email account … also contained emails with attachments regarding large wire transfers,” said the affidavit.
His Apple and Snapchat files also provided information that helped investigators confirm his identity, address and communications with other suspects. Even his birthday celebration photos on Instagram helped verify his identity.
A message showed a birthday cake topped with a Fendi logo and a miniature image of him surrounded by tiny shopping bags. The date of his birthday corresponded to that of his previous US visa application.
Targeted companies span two continents
His alleged cyber crimes involved breathtaking amounts of money.
Federal documents have detailed how a paralegal from a New York law firm wired nearly $ 923,000 to refinance a client’s property to a bank account controlled by Abbas and his accomplices. The paralegal had received fraudulent instructions after sending an email to what appeared to be a bank email address, but was later identified as a “spoofed” email address, according to the affidavit.
Abbas sent a co-conspirator an image of the bank transfer confirmation for the transaction, according to the affidavit.
Abbas and an anonymous person also conspired to launder $ 14.7 million from a foreign financial institution last year, according to a criminal complaint.
During this alleged cybercrime, Abbas sent account information from a Romanian bank account to a co-conspirator, which he said could be used for “large amounts”. In other alleged schemes, he also provided bank accounts in Dubai that can be used to deposit money with victims in the United States, according to the affidavit.
He is also accused of plotting to try to steal $ 124 million from an unnamed English Premier League football club. But it is not known if the attempt was successful.
How professional messaging systems work
Work email compromise schemes are sophisticated scams that involve a hacker redirecting communications from the work email account to try to intercept wire transfers.
“BEC programs are one of the most difficult cybercrimes we come across as they usually involve a coordinated group of scammers around the world who have experience with hacking and exploiting the international financial system” said Hanna.
Last year alone, the FBI recorded $ 1.7 billion in losses from businesses and individuals who were the victims of compromised commercial e-mail, according to Paul Delacourt of the FBI Los Angeles office.
The hearing on Abbas’ bonds is set for Monday. His transfer to Los Angeles was complicated by the logistics of the coronavirus, his lawyer said.
If convicted of money laundering, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
CNN’s Laurie Ure and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.