Deputy To Liberty Reserve Founder Pleads Guilty To Money Laundering In Manhattan Federal Court
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, announced that AZZEDDINE EL AMINE pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to money laundering and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business for his role in running Liberty Reserve, a company that operated one of the world’s most widely used digital currency services and allegedly laundered more than $6 billion in suspected proceeds of crimes. EL AMINE was arrested in Madrid, Spain, in May 2013 and pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote.
According to allegations contained in the Indictment filed against Liberty Reserve, EL AMINE, and six other individual defendants, and statements made in related court proceedings:
Liberty Reserve was incorporated in Costa Rica in 2006 and billed itself as the Internet’s “largest payment processor and money transfer system.” Liberty Reserve was created, structured and operated to help users conduct illegal transactions anonymously and launder the proceeds of their crimes, and it 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 around the world to conduct anonymous and untraceable financial transactions.
Before being shut down by the 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 and laundered more than $6 billion in suspected proceeds of crimes, including credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography, and narcotics trafficking. EL AMINE served as a principal deputy to Liberty Reserve founder Arthur Budovsky and operated a prominent Liberty Reserve “exchanger” service, from which he shared the profits with Budovsky.
EL AMINE, 47, of San José, Costa Rica, pled guilty to one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding work of the United States Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, which worked together in this case as part of the Global Illicit Financial Team. Mr. Bharara also thanked the United States Secret Service’s New York Electronic Crimes Task Force for their extraordinary assistance with the investigation. Additionally, Mr. Bharara specially thanked all the international law enforcement agencies that assisted in the investigation, in particular, the Judicial Investigation Organization in Costa Rica, the National High Tech Crime Unit in the Netherlands, the Spanish National Police, Financial and Economic Crime Unit, the Cyber Crime Unit at the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation, and the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
This case is being prosecuted jointly with the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (“AFMLS”), which is overseen by Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell. Mr. Bharara thanked AFMLS for its partnership and also thanked the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs and Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section for their support.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit and Asset Forfeiture Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Serrin Turner and Andrew Goldstein of the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Kevin Mosley of AFMLS are in charge of the prosecution, and Assistant United States Attorney Christine Magdo is in charge of the forfeiture aspects of the case.
The charges contained in the Indictment against certain of EL AMINE’s co-defendants remain pending and are merely accusations. Those defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.