Authorities seized cryptocurrency exchange Bitzlato and arrested its co-founder, accusing the company of pushing a “High-tech hub of cryptocrime.”
The US Department of Justice has charged Anatoly Legkodymov, a Russian citizen living in China, with running a business that catered to what he once described as “thieves”.
They said Bitzlato processed more than $700m (£567m) in illicit funds, breaching rules designed to thwart money laundering.
Legkodymov was arrested in Miami.
“Cryptocurrency trading institutions are not above the law and their owners are not beyond our reach.” US Attorney Breon Peace said at a news conference Wednesday, announcing the arrest.
“As alleged, Bitzlato sold itself to criminals as a cryptocurrency exchange with no questions asked and raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in deposits as a result. The defendant is now paying the price for the malign role his company played in the cryptocurrency ecosystem.”
Since 2018, the Hong Kong-registered exchange has processed around $4.5 billion worth of cryptocurrency transactions, according to the complaint.
The company required minimal identification of its users, allowing it to become a “haven for criminal assets and funds intended to be used in criminal activities”, prosecutors said.
They claimed the firm was aware of the problems, citing an internal document that described Bitzlato handling “dirty money” no standard customer screening procedures.
Authorities said the company was closely linked to Hydra Market, a marketplace for drugs, money laundering and stolen financial information on the dark web that was shut down by international authorities last year.
Bitzlato claimed he was not accepting American clients, but prosecutors said he was. “substantial” business with Americans.
US authorities worked with law enforcement in France and other countries on the operation.