As the world, particularly Nigerians, waited for news of the sentencing of Ramon Abbas, alias Hushpuppi, in the United States, the court received letters begging for mercy on behalf of the self-confessed international fraudster.
Prominent among the letters of passionate appeal for mercy for Hushpuppi are those of his wife, Regina Manneh, and two Imams who wrote separately from Lagos and Borno states in the Nigeria’s South-west and North-east regions, respectively.
The letter by the Imam of Imisi-Oluwa Mosque, Lagos, Rasaq Olopede, described Hushpuppi as “a frequent donator” to the mosque.
In another letter, Hudu Abdulrasak of Madrasatul Ahlul-Bait Islamiya, in Maiduguri, Borno State, also paid glowing tributes to Hushpuppi for his philanthropic gestures to the orphan, the widow and others in need.
They said the former Instagram celebrity, described by the US government as a proficient cyber-fraudster, had become remorseful and would be of good character after his release.
The addresses of the authors, including Hushpuppi’s wife, are redacted in the copies of the letters.
The letters were filed at the US District Court for the Central District of California on 4 November in support of Huspuppi’s earlier plea for light sentence.
Hushpuppi had personally sent a hand-written letter to the judge, Otis Wright, giving assurances that he was a changed person, and promising to make full restitution in excess of the benefits he derived from the crimes, to the victims.
Hushpuppi was arrested in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and flown to the United States in June 2020 to face charges of multi-million dollars fraudulent schemes including “bank cyber-heists”.
US authorities said Hushpuppi and his conspirators, through an extensive cyber-fraud, targeted multiple victims, including a bank in Malta, a law firm in New York, two companies in the United Kingdom, and a businessperson in Qatar.
Hushpuppi, who initially denied the charges, made a turnaround to enter into a plea bargain agreement with the US authorities in July 2021, in the hope of getting a light sentence.
He confessed to conspiring with multiple persons within and outside the US to launder the proceeds of the fraudulent scheme perpetrated against persons and businesses in different countries.
The offence ordinarily attracts a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, among other punishments including full restitution
The US government, in its pre-sentencing filings, pushed for at least 11 years jail term for him.
But, in his plea for leniency, Hushpuppi, without suggesting any number of years of jail term to the judge, pleaded for a sentence “to a term of imprisonment below the calculated range dictated by statute.”
Wife’s plea for mercy
In her undated letter pleading for mercy on behalf of her husband, Regina Manneh, who is the mother of Hushpuppi’s youngest child, said his absence from home had left a void in the family.
Ms Manneh is believed to have lived with Hushpuppi and their son, Raymond, in Dubai. Hushpuppi’s two older children lives with their separate mothers in the US and the United Kingdom (UK).
Ms Manneh said she and her four-year-old son were on a visit to see relatives in Sweden when Hushpuppi was arrested in June 2020.
“When I heard about his arrest, my son and I were in Sweden visiting family. Unfortunately, there was a lockdown due to Covid and before we got back to Dubai, he was already extradited to the USA so there was no chance for Raymond to see his father,” she wrote.
In her impassioned letter which is suspected to have been sent to the judge in October, she described Hushpuppi as “a very active father” with whom his son spent a lot of time going out and doing activities, including watching movies.
Hushpuppi’s incarceration, she said, “has had a huge impact on us as a family but mostly on our 4year-old son.”
Ms Manneh, who said she had been heart-broken by the turn of events, noted that Raymond “constantly asks for his father’s whereabouts.”
“As a mother, this breaks my heart for my son because he is at an age where he is aware of things and that his father is not with him physically.”
She said whenever Raymond had the opportunity to video call his father, “he constantly asks his father if he is on the way”.
“Usually after the call ends, Raymond gets emotional and just hugs me. And all I can do is offer emotional support to my son that is struggling to navigate his feelings during these hard times,” the mother said.
She said her plea for mercy for Hushpuppi was not just for herself, but “for my son and his family”.
She said Hushpuppi’s whole family depended on him financially and emotionally.
“Not having Ramon here has left a void in Raymond which saddens me,” she said.
She said she had had to start working overtime “in order to be able to pay for our child’s private school fees and his needs which has been a challenging task.”
“Ramon is a man that loves his family and would do anything for them. He is not perfect, but he is a good man that has made mistakes and he has taken responsibility. I beg this court to have mercy on him not only for me but for his children,” she wrote.
Two Islamic clerics in their separate letters painted a portrait of Hushpuppi as a kind, loving, and generous man, whose criminal conduct alleged in the charges levelled against him, came to them as a rude shock.
Mr Olopede of Madrasat Ridwanu L’Hai-L-Arobiyat Wal Islamiyat, Imisi-Oluwa Mosque, said in his 8 October letter that he had known Hushpuppi for 15 years as a frequent donator to the mosque.
In his separate letter dated 4 October, Mr Abdulrasak of the Madrasatul Ahlul-Basit Islamiya, in Maiduguri Borno State, described Hushpuppi as a true philanthropist, although the cleric did not indicate how long he had known him.
Hushpuppi, a Muslim, was born and raised in Lagos before his sojourn to Malaysia and then to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirate (UAE), where he was arrested and flown to the US in June 2020.
His possible connection to the Lagos mosque is therefore understandable.
But his account of his personal history detailed in his court filings gave no hint of how he might have been connected to the Maiduguri community, in Borno State.
Yet, Mr Abdulrasak said Hushpuppi was known to his congregation in Maiduguri as a man that had lent “hands of assistance to many in our community”.
Among Hushpuppi’s philanthropic gestures, according to the cleric, included provision of borehole and water well, payment of school fees, feeding programmes, and rendering assistance to the needy, widows and orphans “on several occasions”.
“We hereby plead and pray to your honour to kindly put the above stated into consideration when tempering justice,” he wrote.
Also attesting to Hushpupi’s kind-heartedness that he was known for in the Lagos mosque, Mr Olopede said the defendant “made himself a willing and available example of hard work and humility for teenagers in his immediate neighbourhood”.
He said the defendant provided leadership and mentorship to friends and older adults alike, even as he sought direction for his own life.
“Ramon would usually contribute his part to anything that concerns the mosque, he would offer financial support at every given time when the mosque was holding events,” the cleric wrote.
He said Hushpuppi had at different times, donated to the mosque and bought a generator for the mosque.
He added that Hushpuppi’s involvement in criminal activities “came as a rude shock.”
“It was surprising that a promising young individual with a tremendous attitude towards work could be doing anything shady,” he added.
The cleric said he understood “the enormity of the crime” Hushpuppi committed, but called on the judge “to evoke the emotional part of you and beg that you temper justice with mercy.”
He noted that he had been informed of how Hushpuppi had been “cooperative and well-behaved” during this trial.
“I hope the remorse he has shown in the last years makes it a worthy recourse to getting a reduced sentence,” he added.
But the letters and pleas did not seem to have had any effect on the judge who, late Monday sentenced Hushpuppi to 11 years and three months imprisonment.
Police rescue two children abandoned by mothers in Lagos
The Lagos State Police Command says operatives of the Rapid Response Squad unit in the state have rescued two children abandoned by their mothers in the Marina area of the state.
This is contained in a statement posted on its official Twitter handle on Friday.
The children were identified as five-year-old Chidara and three-year-old Shonton Chukwu.
The RRS said that the children were rescued on Thursday at about 6:00 p.m.
“Our patrol team at Marina saw two underage boys on the expressway about to be run over by speeding vehicles.
“The boys disclosed that their mother boarded a car and left them,” the command wrote.
The RRS said that the children had been taken to the Adeniji-Adele Police Division to be reunited with their parents.
How Diezani shared $115m to politicians to compromise 2015 polls – EFCC
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has said that its investigation shows that Diezani Alison-Madueke, a former minister of petroleum resources, allegedly gave politicians $115 million to compromise the 2015 elections.
Abdulrasheed Bawa, the EFCC chairperson, said this at an induction retreat for new resident electoral commissioners (INEC) in Lagos.
Bawa was represented by Adukwu Michael, the chief superintendent of the anti-graft agency.
Diezani was the minister of petroleum resources from 2010 to 2015 during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan
Shortly before Jonathan handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, she left the country.
The former minister is alleged to have stolen $2.5 billion from the Nigerian government while she was a minister.
She has, however, denied the allegations, while the EFCC has since commenced a process to extradite her.
The Federal Government had gained forfeiture of Diezani’s properties located in Banana Island Foreshore Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos, including 18 flats and six penthouses.
‘OUR FOCUS IS TO DISCOURAGE USE OF MONEY TO INFLUENCE ELECTION’
The EFCC chairperson’s representative said some of the monies allegedly stolen by Diezani have been recovered by the agency.
He disclosed that the anti-graft agency is focusing on how to discourage vote buying.
“The commission’s focus in election management is discouraging the use of money to influence the outcome of election,” THISDAY quoted him as saying.
“Electoral spending by politicians often leads to voter inducement and vote buying.
“Parties often induce voter with money because they lack proper and realistic policies to convince the electorate to vote them into power.
“Whenever one is induced to sell his vote, he automatically loses moral ground to challenge corrupt tendencies of those elected.
“In the 2015 discreet investigation, the commission was able to uncover a grand plan to compromise the 2015 general election through massive cash payments to politicians.
“$115 million was paid out to politicians by former minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Alison-Madukwe, to compromise the election.
“Some of the money was recovered while many of the culprits are being prosecuted with few convictions recorded. At the heart of EFCC strategy to curb voter inducement is inter-agency collaboration and information sharing.
Gunmen attack mosque in Delta, many injured
Some unknown gunmen, early Friday morning attacked a mosque in Ughelli, Delta state, leaving 11 worshippers injured.
According to some residents, the attack took place at about 6.47 am when some Muslim faithful were holding their morning prayers at the Central Mosque, located along Okoroda street in Ughelli.
The resident who gave his name simply as Larry, said many residents were jolted from their sleep by gunshots followed by loud cries from people inside the mosque.
“My name is Larry, I am a commercial vehicle driver here in Ughelli. I live very close to the central mosque, so this morning at about 6.45 am we heard a shooting at the mosque.
“Because of fear, many people in my compound were frightened and we remained inside only peeping through our windows.
“As the shooting lasted, we heard loud cries from some worshippers inside the mosque,” Larry said.
According to him, after the invaders left, many residents thronged to the mosque in their numbers to see what happened.
He said residents helped to evacuate injured worshippers, adding that those that survived the attack suffered severe injuries.
Larry said that some of the worshippers told residents that three of their fellow worshippers were taken away by the gunmen.
Delta police spokesperson, DSP Bright Edafe, confirmed the attack but said that only 11 worshippers were injured in the attack.
He, however, did not confirm the abduction of three worshippers.
“I just called the DPO at Ughelli and he confirmed to me that 11 persons were injured in the attack at the mosque.
“However, the police have commenced an investigation into the incident and we will update you as we work to unravel the culprits.
“For now, no arrest has been made but I can assure you that we will get those involved,” Edafe said.
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