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Crypto Panics, Then Jeers at DOJ Announcement of ‘Major Action’ Against Tiny Chinese Exchange Bitzlato

Crypto markets teetered on the edge of panic Wednesday, prepared for the worst after the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a mysterious, upcoming press conference concerning a “major international cryptocurrency action.”  Crypto Panics, Then Jeers at DOJ Announcement of ‘Major Action’ Against Tiny Chinese Exchange Bitzlato

Few in crypto had ever heard of the company.

Huge opportunity emerging for exchanges to capture all that massive Bitzlato volume now.

— Hsaka (@HsakaTrades) January 18, 2023


Bitzlato, relative to the size of most major crypto exchanges, is minuscule. According to analytics firm Arkham, the Chinese exchange at its peak held no more than $6 million in funds.

Bitcoin fell some 4.6% within minutes, ETH shed 5% in the same period. Crypto Twitter whipped itself into an anxious frenzy, speculating as to whether another FTX-style implosion of a critical market player was imminent.

And then, a few minutes later, the dust settled: Bitzlato? What’s Bitzlato?

Crypto Panics, Then Jeers at DOJ Announcement of 'Major Action' Against Tiny Chinese Exchange Bitzlato

Mid-day Wednesday, federal prosecutors proudly announced criminal charges against Bitzlato, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange. The exchange’s founder, Russian national Anatoly Legkodymov, apparently known by the nickname “Gandalf,” was arrested last night in Miami.

Authorities say he failed to establish anti-money laundering requirements for Bitzlato, which allegedly processed some $700 million in illicit funds over the course of its history, primarily in the form of transactions related to dark web marketplace Hydra.

 

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If convicted of operating an illegal money transmitting business, Legkodymov faces a maximum sentence of 5 years.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco proudly touted the arrest as “a significant blow to the cryptocrime ecosystem,” and the elimination of a key member of a so-called “crypto crime axis.”

Upon revelation of the contents of the DOJ’s announcement, many in the crypto community took to Twitter to lambast the agency for unnecessarily provoking market hysteria.

vibes pic.twitter.com/NuLYoMfG5g

— 219.eth (@219_eth) January 18, 2023

Though most of Twitter laughed off the underwhelming reveal, some may have found it less amusing.

Prior to the DOJ’s announcement, many speculated that the agency would announce charges against Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. Federal prosecutors have been investigating the company for four years; Binance was deeply entangled in the collapse of rival firm FTX, and recently admitted to some unorthodox business practices.

In the minutes preceding the DOJ’s press conference, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao, better known as CZ, went so far as to tweet a cryptic message implying he was preparing for “fake news” or “attacks” on his company.

— CZ ? Binance (@cz_binance) January 18, 2023

Perhaps due to these worrying signals, net outflows from Binance hit $60 million in the last hour, according to analytics firm Nansen.

BTC and ETH, meanwhile, have both recovered about half of their losses incurred earlier today at the height of market panic. BTC has climbed back to $20,923 at writing, according to CoinGecko; ETH has recovered to $1,546.

 

Updated: 1-18-2023

Bitzlato Kept A Low Profile, But Did Not Go Entirely Unnoticed Before DOJ Action

The Hong Kong crypto exchange with strong ties to Russia was a blip on Chainalysis’ radar last year, with its takedown seen as anticlimactic by many in the crypto community.

Noncustodial peer-to-peer crypto exchange Bitzlato was little known to some before the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement action against it on Jan. 18. It was co-founded in 2016 by recently arrested Russian national Anatoly Legkodymov.

According to a Russian source, Legkodymov is the owner of 73.4% of Bitzlato, which has an office on a high floor in the Federation Tower skyscraper in Moscow, where it accepted trades of $100,000 or more.

Legkodymov and his main partner in Bitzlato are also reportedly involved in Russian crypto mining equipment distribution company A-HVT.

Legkodymov had a long and checkered history in the crypto industry going back more than a decade. His earliest post on the BitcoinTalk forum dates back to 2011, where he described the events that led to a loss of more than 50 BTC:

Crypto Panics, Then Jeers at DOJ Announcement of 'Major Action' Against Tiny Chinese Exchange Bitzlato

Legkodymov described the process of opening the Bitzlato exchange in an online forum in 2017:

“My team and I have analyzed numerous failure scenarios, including a simulation of a hacker attack by the exchange owners and operators, and we found a solution that allows us to operate a bitcoin exchange in a highly secure manner.” 

While Bitzlato attracted little attention until the DOJ action on Jan. 18, Chainalysis stated in a report last February that the exchange had “received $206 million from darknet markets, $224.5 million from scams, and $9 million from ransomware attackers.”

Illicit and risky transactions made up 48% of the company’s business at that time, according to the report.

The DoJ had announced it would be holding a conference to discuss the charges early in the day, but did not indicate which companies would be involved. This led many, who were speculating about the involvement of much larger names, to react with a certain amount of irony:

One lawyer commenting online called the action against Bitzlato “the blueprint for future actions, possibly even the one highly anticipated today.”

Others saw darker forces at work in taking down this darknet actor:

Bitzlato itself was clearly unsuspecting of the action about to overtake it. It tweeted the morning’s exchange rates to its 1,488 followers on Jan. 18.


Bitzlato And Its Founder Face Enforcement Actions From US Authorities

The Department of Justice, Treasury Department and French law enforcement seized many of Bitzlato’s resources, alleging the firm helped launder $700 million in illicit funds.

The United States Department of Justice announced a “major international cryptocurrency enforcement action” against crypto firm Bitzlato and the arrest of its founder, Anatoly Legkodymov.

In a Jan. 18 announcement, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said that authorities had taken enforcement actions against Bitzlato in coordination with France, seizing Bitzlato’s website and labeling the business as a “primary money laundering concern” connected to Russian illicit finance.

According to Monaco, the Department of Justice worked with the Treasury Department and French law enforcement to take action against Bitzlato for “conducting a money transmitting business that transported and transmitted illicit funds and that failed to meet U.S. regulatory safeguards.”

As part of the case against Bitzlato, FBI officials arrested Legkodymov, a Russian national based in China, on Jan. 17 in Miami. He is scheduled to be arraigned in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

U.S. authorities said the criminal complaint against Bitzlato was based on the firm being a “crucial financial resource” for the Hydra darknet marketplace, allowing users to launder funds including those from ransomware attacks:

“Hydra Market users exchanged more than $700 million in cryptocurrency with Bitzlato, either directly or through intermediaries, until Hydra Market was shuttered by U.S. and German law enforcement in April 2022. Bitzlato also received more than $15 million in ransomware proceeds.”

The enforcement action was a coordinated effort across Europe and the U.S. to seize many of Bitzlato’s resources — including the firm’s servers — as well as take the founder into custody. Monaco referred to the case as the “most significant enforcement effort” against an exchange since the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team was launched in October 2021.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite of the Department of Justice’s criminal division said that U.S. authorities were “just getting started” in cracking down on similar firms involved in facilitating money laundering.

Though not commented directly on the ongoing case against crypto exchange FTX and its former CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, Monaco warned against those committing crimes against the U.S. financial system “from a tropical island”.

Updated: 1-19-2023

FinCEN Lists Binance Among The Top Bitcoin Counterparties Of Bitzlato

FinCEN placed Binance next to the darknet market Hydra as a major counterparty receiving Bitcoin from Bitzlato.

The United States Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) — a bureau of the Treasury Department — has argued that Binance is linked to the illegal cryptocurrency platform Bitzlato.

In an order published on Jan. 18, FinCEN stated that the Binance cryptocurrency exchange was among the “top three receiving counterparties” of Bitzlato in terms of Bitcoin transactions.

According to the authority, Binance was among the biggest counterparties that received Bitcoin from Bitzlato between May 2018 and September 2022. Other counterparties included Russia-connected darknet market Hydra and the alleged Russia-based Ponzi scheme known as “Finiko,” FinCEN noted.

On the other hand, FinCEN did not mention Binance as the top three sending counterparties in the order. According to the document, the biggest Bitcoin senders to Bitzlato between May 2018 and September 2022 were Hydra, Finland-based exchange LocalBitcoins and Finiko.

“Approximately two-thirds of Bitzlato’s top receiving and sending counterparties are associated with darknet markets or scams,” FinCEN wrote in the order. The agency noted that between 2019 and 2021, Bitzlato received crypto worth $206 million from darknet markets, $224 million from scams, and $9 million from ransomware attackers.

The news comes amid multiple U.S. authorities initiating major enforcement action against Bitzlato, accusing the firm of money laundering and allegedly facilitating circumvention of sanctions against Russia.

As part of the case against Bitzlato, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Bitzlato founder Anatoly Legkodymov on Jan. 17 in Miami.

Unlike major crypto exchanges like Binance or Coinbase, Bitzlato was a little-known cryptocurrency service. Founded in 2016, the platform reportedly has an office in the Federation Tower skyscraper in Moscow, where it accepted transactions of $100,000 or more.

The alleged involvement of Binance in Bitzlato’s case raises some concerns about the exchange’s operations and potential ties with Russia. As previously reported, Binance was among exchanges that opted to continue to serve non-sanctioned Russians after the European Union adopted the eighth sanctions package against the country.

Addressing Cointelegraph’s request for comment regarding FinCEN’s reference to Binance in Bitzlato’s case, a spokesperson for Binance said that the firm has been collaborating with regulators, stating:

“Binance is pleased to have provided substantial assistance to international law enforcement partners in support of this investigation. This exemplifies Binance’s commitment to working collaboratively with law enforcement partners worldwide.“

FinCEN did not immediately respond to Cointelegraph’s request for comment.

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Man Takes Bitcoin Miner Seller To Tribunal Over Electricity Bill And Wins (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Computing Power Sets Record As Over 100K New Miners Go Online (#GotBitcoin?)

Walmart Coin And Libra Perform Major Public Relations For Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Judge Says Buying Bitcoin Via Credit Card Not Necessarily A Cash Advance (#GotBitcoin?)

Poll: If You’re A Stockowner Or Crypto-Currency Holder. What Will You Do When The Recession Comes?

1 In 5 Crypto Holders Are Women, New Report Reveals (#GotBitcoin?)

Beating Bakkt, Ledgerx Is First To Launch ‘Physical’ Bitcoin Futures In Us (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook Warns Investors That Libra Stablecoin May Never Launch (#GotBitcoin?)

Government Money Printing Is ‘Rocket Fuel’ For Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin-Friendly Square Cash App Stock Price Up 56% In 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Safeway Shoppers Can Now Get Bitcoin Back As Change At 894 US Stores (#GotBitcoin?)

TD Ameritrade CEO: There’s ‘Heightened Interest Again’ With Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Venezuela Sets New Bitcoin Volume Record Thanks To 10,000,000% Inflation (#GotBitcoin?)

Newegg Adds Bitcoin Payment Option To 73 More Countries (#GotBitcoin?)

China’s Schizophrenic Relationship With Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

More Companies Build Products Around Crypto Hardware Wallets (#GotBitcoin?)

Bakkt Is Scheduled To Start Testing Its Bitcoin Futures Contracts Today (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Network Now 8 Times More Powerful Than It Was At $20K Price (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Exchange BitMEX Under Investigation By CFTC: Bloomberg (#GotBitcoin?)

“Bitcoin An ‘Unstoppable Force,” Says US Congressman At Crypto Hearing (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Network Is Moving $3 Billion Daily, Up 210% Since April (#GotBitcoin?)

Cryptocurrency Startups Get Partial Green Light From Washington

Fundstrat’s Tom Lee: Bitcoin Pullback Is Healthy, Fewer Searches Аre Good (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Lightning Nodes Are Snatching Funds From Bad Actors (#GotBitcoin?)

The Provident Bank Now Offers Deposit Services For Crypto-Related Entities (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Could Help Stop News Censorship From Space (#GotBitcoin?)

US Sanctions On Iran Crypto Mining — Inevitable Or Impossible? (#GotBitcoin?)

US Lawmaker Reintroduces ‘Safe Harbor’ Crypto Tax Bill In Congress (#GotBitcoin?)

EU Central Bank Won’t Add Bitcoin To Reserves — Says It’s Not A Currency (#GotBitcoin?)

The Miami Dolphins Now Accept Bitcoin And Litecoin Crypt-Currency Payments (#GotBitcoin?)

Trump Bashes Bitcoin And Alt-Right Is Mad As Hell (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Sachs Ramps Up Development Of New Secret Crypto Project (#GotBitcoin?)

Blockchain And AI Bond, Explained (#GotBitcoin?)

Grayscale Bitcoin Trust Outperformed Indexes In First Half Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

XRP Is The Worst Performing Major Crypto Of 2019 (GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Back Near $12K As BTC Shorters Lose $44 Million In One Morning (#GotBitcoin?)

As Deutsche Bank Axes 18K Jobs, Bitcoin Offers A ‘Plan ฿”: VanEck Exec (#GotBitcoin?)

Argentina Drives Global LocalBitcoins Volume To Highest Since November (#GotBitcoin?)

‘I Would Buy’ Bitcoin If Growth Continues — Investment Legend Mobius (#GotBitcoin?)

Lawmakers Push For New Bitcoin Rules (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook’s Libra Is Bad For African Americans (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Firm Charity Announces Alliance To Support Feminine Health (#GotBitcoin?)

Canadian Startup Wants To Upgrade Millions Of ATMs To Sell Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Trump Says US ‘Should Match’ China’s Money Printing Game (#GotBitcoin?)

Casa Launches Lightning Node Mobile App For Bitcoin Newbies (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Rally Fuels Market In Crypto Derivatives (#GotBitcoin?)

World’s First Zero-Fiat ‘Bitcoin Bond’ Now Available On Bloomberg Terminal (#GotBitcoin?)

Buying Bitcoin Has Been Profitable 98.2% Of The Days Since Creation (#GotBitcoin?)

Another Crypto Exchange Receives License For Crypto Futures

From ‘Ponzi’ To ‘We’re Working On It’ — BIS Chief Reverses Stance On Crypto (#GotBitcoin?)

These Are The Cities Googling ‘Bitcoin’ As Interest Hits 17-Month High (#GotBitcoin?)

Venezuelan Explains How Bitcoin Saves His Family (#GotBitcoin?)

Quantum Computing Vs. Blockchain: Impact On Cryptography

This Fund Is Riding Bitcoin To Top (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Surge Leaves Smaller Digital Currencies In The Dust (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Exchange Hits $1 Trillion In Trading Volume (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Breaks $200 Billion Market Cap For The First Time In 17 Months (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Make State Tax Payments In Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Religious Organizations Make Ideal Places To Mine Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Sacs And JP Morgan Chase Finally Concede To Crypto-Currencies (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Heading For Fifth Month Of Gains Despite Price Correction (#GotBitcoin?)

Breez Reveals Lightning-Powered Bitcoin Payments App For IPhone (#GotBitcoin?)

Big Four Auditing Firm PwC Releases Cryptocurrency Auditing Software (#GotBitcoin?)

Amazon-Owned Twitch Quietly Brings Back Bitcoin Payments (#GotBitcoin?)

JPMorgan Will Pilot ‘JPM Coin’ Stablecoin By End Of 2019: Report (#GotBitcoin?)

Is There A Big Short In Bitcoin? (#GotBitcoin?)

Coinbase Hit With Outage As Bitcoin Price Drops $1.8K In 15 Minutes

Samourai Wallet Releases Privacy-Enhancing CoinJoin Feature (#GotBitcoin?)

There Are Now More Than 5,000 Bitcoin ATMs Around The World (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Get Bitcoin Rewards When Booking At Hotels.Com (#GotBitcoin?)

North America’s Largest Solar Bitcoin Mining Farm Coming To California (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin On Track For Best Second Quarter Price Gain On Record (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Hash Rate Climbs To New Record High Boosting Network Security (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Exceeds 1Million Active Addresses While Coinbase Custodies $1.3B In Assets

Why Bitcoin’s Price Suddenly Surged Back $5K (#GotBitcoin?)

Zebpay Becomes First Exchange To Add Lightning Payments For All Users (#GotBitcoin?)

Coinbase’s New Customer Incentive: Interest Payments, With A Crypto Twist (#GotBitcoin?)

The Best Bitcoin Debit (Cashback) Cards Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Real Estate Brokerages Now Accepting Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Ernst & Young Introduces Tax Tool For Reporting Cryptocurrencies (#GotBitcoin?)

Recession Is Looming, or Not. Here’s How To Know (#GotBitcoin?)

How Will Bitcoin Behave During A Recession? (#GotBitcoin?)

Many U.S. Financial Officers Think a Recession Will Hit Next Year (#GotBitcoin?)

Definite Signs of An Imminent Recession (#GotBitcoin?)

What A Recession Could Mean for Women’s Unemployment (#GotBitcoin?)

Investors Run Out of Options As Bitcoin, Stocks, Bonds, Oil Cave To Recession Fears (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Is Looking To Reduce “Marcus” Lending Goal On Credit (Recession) Caution (#GotBitcoin?)

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