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‘Dark web’ mastermind had clean background: Antigua-Barbuda CIU

From Caribbean News Now

ST JOHN’S, Antigua — In response to revelations on Thursday that the largest criminal marketplace on the Internet, AlphaBay, was created and operated by an economic citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) issued a statement confirming that the background check prior to the issue of citizenship revealed no derogatory information.

According to the CIU, the Unit’s due diligence providers, which include private, regional and international law enforcement and intelligence agencies, returned no derogatory information on the now deceased Canadian-born investor, Alexandre Cazes in their official reports.

Among these agencies are the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the Joint Regional Communications Centre (JRCC), which is part of CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS). International governments such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom all inform the IMPACS process.

The extensive searches conducted by agencies such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and various international governments came back clean.

Clearance was also given by the Special Branch, Royal Thai Police, Bangkok, Thailand saying: “…This is to certify Mr Alexandre Cazes of Canadian nationality… is a person with no behaviour endangering the peace and order or the security of the state.”

The RCMP police clearance stated: “…This certifies that a search of the National Criminal Records repository maintained by the RCMP concerning the person whose fingerprints, name and date of birth appear below could not be associated to any existing Criminal Record of conviction…”

“A Canadian by birth who received Antiguan and Barbudan citizenship through the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), Cazes would have had to go through the same rigorous due diligence process as every applicant.

“The extensive process involves searches in global sanctions and embargo lists, alerts and watch lists issued by financial regulators, law enforcement and other governmental agencies from around the world,” the CIU said.

The CIU emphasised that the due diligence process undertaken in the review of each application is robust and goes above and beyond customary global best practices. Nonetheless, the Unit said it will endeavour to ascertain from its international government and private due diligence partners why none of these suspicious activities were revealed to the Unit during or subsequent to the processing of the application.

Cazes was arrested on July 5 in a joint operation between Thai police and the US State Department and was, according to the indictment, caught red handed with his computer unlocked and logged in as administrator of AlphaBay.

Cazes took his own life while in detention in a Thai prison on July 12.

According to the announcement by the US Justice Department, AlphaBay, which operated for over two years on the dark web, was used to sell illegal drugs, stolen and fraudulent identification documents and access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms, and toxic chemicals throughout the world.

Cazes was charged in an indictment, filed in the Eastern District of California on June 1, with one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering, one count of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, six counts of distribution of narcotics, one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft, four counts of unlawful transfer of false identification documents, one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud, one count of trafficking in device making equipment, and one count of money laundering conspiracy.

Law enforcement authorities in the United States worked with numerous foreign partners to freeze and preserve millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrencies that were the subject of forfeiture counts in the indictment, and that represent the proceeds of the AlphaBay organization’s illegal activities.

On July 19, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California filed a civil forfeiture complaint against Cazes and his wife’s assets located throughout the world, including in Thailand, Cyprus, Lichtenstein, and Antigua and Barbuda. Cazes and his wife amassed numerous high value assets, including luxury vehicles, residences and a hotel in Thailand. Cazes also possessed millions of dollars in cryptocurrency, which has been seized by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

According to publicly available information on AlphaBay prior to its takedown, one AlphaBay staff member claimed that it serviced over 200,000 users and 40,000 vendors. Around the time of takedown, there were over 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals on AlphaBay, and over 100,000 listings for stolen and fraudulent identification documents and access devices, counterfeit goods, malware and other computer hacking tools, firearms and fraudulent services.

Comparatively, the Silk Road dark web marketplace, which was seized by law enforcement in November 2013, had reportedly approximately 14,000 listings for illicit goods and services at the time of seizure and was the largest dark web marketplace at the time.

“This is likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year – taking down the largest dark net marketplace in history,” said US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

AlphaBay operated as a hidden service on the “Tor” network, and utilized cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Monero and Ethereum in order to hide the locations of its underlying servers and the identities of its administrators, moderators, and users. Based on law enforcement’s investigation of AlphaBay, authorities believe the site was also used to launder hundreds of millions of dollars deriving from illegal transactions on the website.

The operation to seize the AlphaBay site coincides with efforts by Dutch law enforcement to investigate and take down the Hansa Market, another prominent dark web market. Like AlphaBay, Hansa Market was used to facilitate the sale of illegal drugs, toxic chemicals, malware, counterfeit identification documents, and illegal services. The administrators of Hansa Market, along with its thousands of vendors and users, also attempted to mask their identities to avoid prosecution through the use of Tor and digital currency.

IMAGE: alexandre_cazes1.jpg Alexandre Cazes. Photo: Telegraph

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