A Russian national who runs a crypto exchange in Hong Kong was arrested Tuesday night in Miami. Prosecutors at the Justice Department said the crypto exchange, Bitzlato, processed over $700 million in illicit funds that were made from crimes including ransomware and drug trafficking.
Now the firm’s majority shareholder, Anatoly Legkodymov, is charged with conducting an unlicensed money transmitting business and faces five years in prison.
“Operating off shore or moving your servers out of the continental U.S. will not shield you. And whether you break our laws from China or Europe – or abuse our financial system from a tropical island – you can expect to answer for your crimes inside a United States courtroom,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said.
The Justice Department said Bitzlato catered to known crooks, and purposefully worked around safeguards put in place by the U.S. government to detect and investigate financial crimes. Bitzlato is even accused of advertising that they require minimal identifying information from clients to complete their transactions.
According to the Justice Department, senior executives at Bitzlato were well aware that their clients were criminals. Legkodymov wrote in an internal company chat to a colleague that many of their users were “known to be crooks.” Another executive also suggested that the company should only combat drug dealers “nominally” to avoid hurting their bottom line.
“The result was that Bitzlato became a safe haven for criminals, including drug dealers and ransomware groups. They knew that when the police traced their funds to Bitzlato, Bitlato would not be able to turn over its users’ true identities,” Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said.
The FBI says it is working to keep crypto markets free of illicit activity. Deputy Attorney General Monaco says the Justice Department is also taking steps to address what she called a crisis of confidence in the crypto currency markets.
“The FBI will continue to pursue actors who attempt to mask their criminal activity behind keyboards and use means such as cryptocurrency to evade law enforcement,” FBI Assistant Deputy Director Brian Turner said. “We, along with our federal and international partners, will work relentlessly to disrupt and dismantle these types of criminal enterprises.”