Man Gets 20 Years For Online Money Laundering

The founder of a digital currency service that allegedly laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for criminals has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Arthur Budovsky was also ordered to pay a fine of $500,000.

The 42-year-old started his Costa Rica-based company, Liberty Reserve, in 2005.

Users were asked for a name, email address, and their date of birth, though it is alleged that users' identities were not properly checked. 

Once registered, people could transfer money to other users.

Deposits were converted into Liberty Reserve Dollars or Liberty Reserve Euros, which were tied to the value of the US dollar and the euro, or to ounces of gold. 

Prosecutors claimed the service enabled criminals to store and launder the proceeds of illegal activity. 

Liberty Reserve was described by authorities as a "financial hub" for Ponzi scheme operators, credit card traffickers, identity thieves and hackers.

The US Department of Justice said that by the time it was shut down in 2013 it had more than 5.5m user accounts, including more than 600,000 in the United States. 

In its eight years, it processed more than 78 million financial transactions with a combined value of more than $8bn.

The case involved police and investigators from 17 countries. 

Budovsky was arrested in Spain in May 2013, after renouncing his US citizenship and acquiring Costa Rican nationality in an apparent bid to avoid prosecution.

He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit money laundering on 29 January, three days before his trial had been due to begin in New York.

As part of a plea agreement, he admitted laundering between $250m $550m in criminal proceeds linked to Liberty Reserve accounts based in the US.

US District Judge Denise L. Cote said he had not expressed any "genuine remorse".

"The significant sentence handed down today shows that money laundering through the use of virtual currencies is still money laundering, and that online crime is still crime," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell. 

Six other people were linked to the case.

Co-defendants Maxim Chukharev and Mark Marmilev, who also pleaded guilty, were sentenced to three and five years respectively.

Two others will be sentenced later this month, while another two remain at large.

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