Today, we strike a severe blow against a professional money laundering enterprise charged with laundering over $6 billion in criminal proceeds. As charged in the indictment unsealed today, Liberty Reserve was a financial hub for cybercriminals, Ponzi schemers, child pornographers, identity thieves, and other criminals seeking to hide, launder, and use ill-gotten funds.
As charged: Liberty Reserve operated, on an enormous scale, a digital currency system designed to provide cyber and other criminals with a way to launder their profits without leaving a trace. Liberty Reserve was a massive criminal enterprise servicing more than one million users globally – including 200,000 in the United States alone. The company’s very purpose was to launder its users’ criminal proceeds through the U.S. and global financial system. So committed, in fact, was the principal founder of Liberty Reserve to avoid the reach of U.S. law, that, according to the indictment, in 2011 he formally renounced his U.S. citizenship and became a Costa Rican citizen, telling immigration authorities that he was concerned the software his company was developing “might open him up to liability in the U.S.” His co-founder doubled down on that sentiment in an online chat captured by law enforcement, noting that “everyone” in the United States, such as “DOJ,” knows that Liberty Reserve is a “money laundering operation that hackers use.”
The coordinated, global actions we announce today have permanently put this professional money laundering enterprise out of business. By indicting Liberty Reserve and its principals, restraining over $25 million in criminal proceeds, forfeiting domain names, and seizing servers in countries around the globe, our message is clear: money launderers can run, but they can’t hide from the U.S. justice system.
Three years ago, the Criminal Division announced the creation of the Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit within our Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section. The mission of this elite group of lawyers is to prosecute professional money launderers and financial institutions, particularly those using the latest and most sophisticated money laundering techniques, such as digital currency, to move the money of transnational criminal organizations, drug cartels, and others criminals. Today, this unit – working in close cooperation with our partners in the Southern District of New York – has brought what we believe to be the largest international money laundering prosecution in the history of the Department. Combating the threat of global illicit finance requires using every tool we have at our disposal, and today we demonstrate our resolve to ensure that criminals who exploit the U.S. and global financial system will be held to account.
The investigation of this global crime enterprise required coordinated action by law enforcement authorities in 15 different countries. Such an enormous undertaking would not have been possible without the terrific work of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, or the close partnership we have with the United States Secret Service and IRS-CI through the Global Illicit Finance Team, ICE-HSI, and the Treasury Department. Finally, I want to acknowledge our many foreign law enforcement partners for their stellar cooperation on this case.