Two Defendants Plead Guilty for Their Roles Helping Cybercriminals Launder Money as Part of the QQAAZZ Organization
PITTSBURGH – Two individuals have pleaded guilty for their roles in the cybercriminal money laundering organization QQAAZZ. On August 6 and July 13, two of the charged defendants, Arturs Zaharevics and Aleksejs Trofimovics, respectively, pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy in the Western District of Pennsylvania. QQAAZZ was a European-based money laundering organization that provided illegal cash-out and cryptocurrency transactions for computer hackers and their associates. In total, 20 individuals have been charged as part of this scheme.
In furtherance of QQAAZZ’s criminal conspiracy, Trofimovics, using his own name, registered a shell company in Portugal that conducted no legitimate business. Trofimovics then opened at least thirteen corporate bank accounts in Portugal in the name of the shell company for the intended purpose of enabling QQAAZZ to receive and launder money stolen by cybercriminals from victims and their respective financial institutions. Several of these Portuguese accounts received, or were intended to receive, funds stolen from U.S. victims.
Arturs Zaharevics was successfully extradited from the United Kingdom in April. In furtherance of QQAAZZ’s criminal conspiracy, Zaharevics established a shell company under a false name and set up foreign bank accounts in the name of that shell company that received or intended to receive funds stolen from U.S. victims.
Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman for the Western District of Pennsylvania and FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall made the announcement today.
“Transnational money laundering organizations like the QQAAZZ group play a critical role in helping cybercriminals profit from their schemes. The guilty pleas announced today reflect our ongoing commitment to dismantle these pernicious groups through collaboration with our foreign partners. The guilty pleas further demonstrate our commitment to pursue such criminals in other parts of the world and ensure that they face justice in our U.S. courts,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman of the Western District of Pennsylvania.
“These individuals operated a money laundering scheme working in concert with cyber criminals who stole from unsuspecting victims in the United States and around the globe,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “Their guilty pleas are proof no one can hide behind a computer or an international border. The FBI is engaged in numerous efforts to combat cyber threats, from improving threat identification and information sharing, to examining the way we operate to disrupt and defeat these threats. Partnerships are a vital part of the work we do every day, and the global partners in this investigation allowed all of us to combine tools, skills and knowledge to create a stronger team to put these criminals out of business.”
According to the factual bases for the two guilty pleas and the various charging instruments in this case, the QQAAZZ members, acting in concert with cybercriminals across the world, conspired to launder money stolen from victims of computer fraud in the United States and elsewhere. More than 40 house searches were conducted in Latvia, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy, with criminal prosecutions initiated in the United States, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. The largest number of searches and arrests were carried out in Latvia by the Latvian State Police (Latvijas Valsts Policija), and an extensive bitcoin mining operation associated with the group was seized in Bulgaria. Europol and several law enforcement agencies across Europe collaborated with the United States to develop parallel investigations and prosecutions of the QQAAZZ members in their own countries.
The investigation was conducted by FBI. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and law enforcement partners in the United Kingdom and Latvia secured the arrest of the defendants overseas.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Michael Parker of the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles A. “Tod” Eberle, Chief of the National Security and Cybercrime Section for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Czarnecki of the Western District of Pennsylvania.