operators of a global currency exchange ran a multi-billion money-laundering
operation online, an Internet hub for criminals trafficking in everything from
stolen identities to child pornography, federal prosecutors in New York
announced today when an indictment was unsealed in federal court.
Reserve, the currency exchange, allegedly operated beyond United States and international banking regulations in what prosecutors call a shadowy netherworld of virtually anonymous cyberfinance.
Liberty Reserve traded
in "virtual currency," and provided anonymous and accessible banking services
increasingly sought by criminal networks, including counterfeiters, law enforcement officials claimed.
charges were announced at a news conference by Preet Bharara, the United States
Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The charges detailed a complicated system designed to allow people to move sums of money around the world with virtual anonymity, according to an indictment, which was unsealed in federal court in Manhattan today.
seven year period, Liberty Reserve was allegedly responsible for laundering
billions of dollars, having conducted over 55 million transactions that involved customers all over the world, including more than 200,000 in the United States,
according to federal prosecutors.
PayPal revolutionized how people shop online, Liberty Reserve sought to create
a similarly convenient way for criminals to make financial transactions, law
enforcement officials explained.
alleged, the only liberty that Liberty Reserve gave many of its users was the
freedom to commit crimes — the coin of its realm was anonymity, and it became a
popular hub for fraudsters, hackers and traffickers,” Mr. Bharara said at the
global enforcement action we announce today is an important step toward reining
in the ‘Wild West’ of illicit Internet banking. As crime goes increasingly
global, the long arm of the law has to get even longer, and in this case, it
encircled the earth.”
Reserve was incorporated in Costa Rica in 2006 by Arthur Budovsky, who
renounced his United States citizenship in 2011, and was arrested in Spain on
Friday. He was
among seven people charged in the case; five of them were under arrest, while
two remained at large in Costa Rica.
addition to the criminal charges, five domain names were seized, including the
one used by Liberty Reserve. Officials also seized or restricted the activity
of 45 bank accounts.
cited “blatantly criminal monikers” used by Liberty Reserve clients, like
“Russia Hackers.” Essentially,
all a customer needed to open an account was an e-mail address.
Liberty Reserve was incorporated outside the United States, federal officials
used a provision in the Patriot
Act to target the organization and other financial institutions
with whom they conducted business. It was the first time the provision had been
used to prosecute a virtual currency provider.
Reserve did not take or make cash payments directly and instead used
“third-party ‘exchangers,’ ” according to the indictment. These exchangers
would take and make payments, and then credit or debit the Liberty Reserve
account, allowing Liberty Reserve to avoid collecting any banking information
on its clients and not leave a “centralized financial paper trail,” the
indictment also said.
exchangers, the indictment said, “tended to be unlicensed money-transmitting
businesses without significant government oversight or regulation, concentrated
in Malaysia, Russia, Nigeria and Vietnam.”
people who accepted Liberty Reserve’s currency were “overwhelmingly criminal in
nature,” according to the indictment.
included, for example: traffickers of stolen credit card data and personal
identity information; peddlers of various types of online Ponzi and
get-rich-quick schemes; computer hackers for hire; unregulated gambling enterprises;
and underground drug-dealing Web sites,” according to the indictment.