Two Estonian citizens have been arrested and charged in connection with what US prosecutors described as a $575mn cryptocurrency fraud and money laundering scheme.
Sergei Potapenko and Ivan Turygin are accused of defrauding hundreds of thousands of victims, according to the US Department of Justice, which on Monday unsealed an indictment against them.
The defendants allegedly induced victims to enter into rental contracts for fraudulent equipment with the men’s crypto mining service HashFlare. They also are accused of soliciting investments in a virtual currency bank called Polybius Bank, which, prosecutors said, was neither a bank nor paid dividends that were promised.
The arrests of both men, aged 37, are the latest indication that law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly focused on illicit crypto activity across the globe.
The arrests in Tallinn, Estonia, also come amid the collapse into bankruptcy of FTX, a once-marquee crypto platform controlled by Sam Bankman-Fried, who at his height of influence was considered one of the crypto industry’s flag bearers.
“New technology has made it easier for bad actors to take advantage of innocent victims — both in the US and abroad — in increasingly complex scams,” said assistant attorney-general Kenneth Polite.
Earlier this month, the US secured the conviction of James Zhong, who once held more than $3bn worth of bitcoin taken from Silk Road, an infamous dark net marketplace that accepted cryptocurrency in exchange for illicit goods.
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