‘Hushpuppi’ laundered funds for North Korean hackers, U.S says

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Fresh details have emerged about the case against Nigerian social media celebrity, Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi.

The U.S Department of Justice on Wednesday revealed that Hushpuppi worked with North Korean hackers to launder funds stolen from a Maltese bank.

According to a statement released by the Justice Department, Abbas took part in a “North Korean-perpetrated cyber-enabled heist from a Maltese bank in February 2019.”

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

In July, Abbas’ then-lawyer Gal Pissetzky told Forbes that Abbas was not guilty of the charges and described Abbas as “an entrepreneur” who made his money legitimately through “real estate” and his work “promoting brands” as an “Instagram personality.”

On Wednesday, Abbas’ name emerged among details of a larger international criminal conspiracy involving so-called North Korean military hackers involved in “a series of destructive cyberattacks, to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion of money and cryptocurrency from financial institutions and companies,” according to the Justice Department statement on the new indictment.

FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said in the statement that Wednesday’s unsealed indictment expands the FBI’s 2018 charges for the “unprecedented cyberattacks conducted by the North Korean regime.”

Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division added, “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.”

The U.S. is specifically accusing 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 three North 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 arrested in Dubai and arrived in the U.S. on July 3 to face criminal charges over allegations that he made “hundreds of millions of dollars” from business email compromise frauds and other scams.

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