By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) - Spanish police on Thursday said they arrested the CEO, sales executive and marketing director of the crypto platform Bitzlato for its alleged involvement in money laundering.
The police operation also involved simultaneous raids in France, Portugal, Cyprus and the US.
In total, six people were arrested, all of Russian and Ukrainian nationals, and French police deactivated and seized the technology used to host the cryptocurrency platform.
Police said Bitzalto was one of the main ways criminals could launder money with cryptocurrency on a global scale.
The platform started in Russia and neighboring countries in 2016 under the name BTC Banker. It gained popularity as a Telegram bot used to buy and sell various cryptocurrencies anonymously. It later expanded geographically, changed its name to Bitzlao and launched a peer-to-peer crypto exchange app in 2020.
Spanish police say since its beginnings, the technology’s anonymity allowed it to become one of the main exchanges used by criminal organizations, particularly those related to cybercrime, due to its anonymity.
One analysis found that nearly half of the $2 billion worth of the funds traded on the platform from 2019 to 2021 came from cybercrime — primarily from selling illegal products and services on the dark web and cyber-extortions via ransomware hacks.
In the recent raids, authorities seized €18 million ($19.8 million) in cryptocurrency, luxury cars, cash, smartphones and other technology pertinent to the investigation. They also blocked more than 100 cryptocurrency accounts.
“This is a major blow to the cybercrime ecosystem, and especially the opaque mechanisms used to launder money and monetize the fruits of their activity,” police said.
The co-founder of the platform, Anatoly Legkodymov, was also arrested in Miami in January.