Liberty Reserve Founder Extradited from Spain
The founder of Liberty Reserve, a virtual currency used by cybercriminals around the world to launder proceeds of their illegal activity, was extradited from Spain and arrived in the United States this afternoon.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York made the announcement.
Arthur Budovsky, 40, a citizen of Costa Rica, was arrested in Spain in May 2013 after being indicted by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York. Following his extradition by Spanish authorities, Budovsky arrived in New York this afternoon and will be presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV on Oct. 11, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. Budovsky will be arraigned before U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote on Oct. 14, 2014, at 12:45 p.m.
“Arthur Budovsky allegedly built Liberty Reserve overseas to provide the international underworld with a crime-friendly digital currency and elude the scrutiny of American authorities. He even renounced his U.S. citizenship to try to escape facing justice in an American courtroom,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “With the cooperation of our foreign partners in Spain and elsewhere, this case and extradition are a clear example that money launderers can run, but they cannot hide from the Department of Justice.”
“For years, Arthur Budovsky allegedly enabled criminals in the United States and around the world to process illegal payments and to launder billions of dollars in crime proceeds through Liberty Reserve,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “Budovsky operated Liberty Reserve from Costa Rica, hoping to evade the reach of U.S. law enforcement. Thanks to the cooperative efforts of our law enforcement partners here and in Spain, he was apprehended and extradited to the United States where he will now face justice.”
According to allegations contained in the indictment and statements made in related court proceedings, Liberty Reserve was born out of Budovsky’s unsuccessful experience running a third-party exchange service, called Gold Age Inc., for another digital currency, called E-Gold. In or about 2006, Budovsky was convicted in New York State of operating Gold Age Inc. as an unlicensed money transmitting business. In 2007, the operators of E-Gold were also charged with criminal offenses, including money laundering and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, and subsequently ceased doing business. In the wake of his own criminal conviction, Budovsky set about building a digital currency that would succeed in eluding law enforcement where E-Gold had failed, by, among other ways, locating the business outside the United States. Accordingly, Budovsky emigrated to Costa Rica, where he and other defendants began operating Liberty Reserve.
Liberty Reserve, which billed itself as the Internet’s “largest payment processor and money transfer system,” was created, structured and operated to help users conduct illegal transactions anonymously and launder the proceeds of their crimes. The indictment alleges that Budovsky devoted himself to building and expanding Liberty Reserve so that the company could profit from attracting more and more criminal customers, all while seeking to evade the scrutiny and reach of U.S. law enforcement authorities. At all relevant times, Budovsky directed and supervised Liberty Reserve’s operations, finances, and corporate strategy.
Liberty Reserve emerged as one of the principal money transfer agents used by cybercriminals around the world to distribute, store, and launder the proceeds of their illegal activity. Liberty Reserve was used extensively for illegal purposes, functioning as the bank of choice for the criminal underworld because it provided an infrastructure that enabled cybercriminals to conduct anonymous and untraceable financial transactions. The indictment alleges that Budovsky was so committed to evading U.S. law enforcement that he formally renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2011 and became a Costa Rican citizen, telling U.S. immigration authorities that he was concerned that the “software” his “company” was developing “might open him up to liability in the U.S.”
Before being shut down by the U.S. government in May 2013, Liberty Reserve had more than one million users worldwide, including more than 200,000 users in the United States, who conducted approximately 55 million transactions through its system totaling more than $6 billion in funds. These funds encompassed suspected proceeds of credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, narcotics trafficking, and other crimes.
Budovsky is among seven individuals charged in the indictment, which was unsealed on May 28, 2013. Four co-defendants – Vladimir Kats, Azzeddine el Amine, Mark Marmilev, and Maxim Chukharev – have pleaded guilty and await sentencing before U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote. Charges against Liberty Reserve and two individual defendants who have not been apprehended remain pending.
The charges contained in the indictment remain pending and are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from the Secret Service’s New York Electronic Crimes Task Force. The Judicial Investigation Organization in Costa Rica, the National High Tech Crime Unit in the Netherlands, the Financial and Economic Crime Unit of the Spanish National Police, the Cyber Crime Unit at the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation and the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office also provided assistance.
This case is being prosecuted jointly by the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Complex Frauds Unit and Asset Forfeiture Unit in the Southern District of New York, with assistance from the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.
Trial Attorney Kevin Mosley of AFMLS and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Serrin Turner, Andrew Goldstein and Christine Magdo of the Southern District of New York are in charge of the prosecution, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Magdo is in charge of the forfeiture aspects of the case.