Azzeddine El Amine, 47, of San José, Costa Rica, pleaded guilty today to money laundering and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business in connection with his role in running Liberty Reserve, a company that operated one of the world’s most widely used digital currency services.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York made the announcement.
The guilty plea was entered by U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote of the Southern District of New York.
According to allegations contained in the indictment 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.
El Amine served as a principal deputy to Liberty Reserve founder Arthur Budovsky and operated a prominent Liberty Reserve “exchanger” service, through which he shared in Liberty Reserve’s profits with Budovsky.
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 was arrested in Madrid, Spain, in May 2013, and pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, one count of conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled .
This case is being investigated by the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, which worked together as part of the Global Illicit Financial Team. The Justice Department expresses its appreciation for the assistance provided by various enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad, including 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 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.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Kevin Mosley of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Serrin Turner, Andrew Goldstein and Christine Magdo of the Southern District of New York.
Support was also provided by the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.
The charges contained in the indictment against El Amine’s co-defendants remain pending and are merely accusations.
Those defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.