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Founders of Sanctioned Cryptocurrency Mixer Tornado Cash Face Money Laundering Charges in U.S. Case

Two individuals have been formally charged by U.S. prosecutors for their alleged involvement with Tornado Cash, a decentralized cryptocurrency mixer.

The charges against Roman Storm and Roman Semenov, detailed in an indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, were unveiled on Wednesday.

The accusations encompass their purported collaboration in orchestrating illicit fund laundering and violating U.S. sanctions.

Tornado Cash, the platform in question, facilitated the anonymous exchange of cryptocurrencies. However, it came under U.S. Treasury Department sanctions in August of the prior year. The U.S. authorities claimed that the platform was responsible for laundering over $1 billion in virtual currencies, which included substantial sums derived from hacking operations conducted by the sanctioned North Korean cybercrime organization, Lazarus Group.

Roman Storm, aged 34, was apprehended on Wednesday in the state of Washington. He will soon appear in a federal court in that jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Roman Semenov, a 35-year-old Russian national, remains at large and is now also under U.S. Treasury Department sanctions due to his alleged involvement in managing Tornado Cash.

Representing Storm in this case, Brian Klein, a partner at the law firm Waymaker, revealed that Storm has been cooperating with the investigation since the previous year. According to WSJ, Klein strongly asserted that Storm had not engaged in any criminal activity and expressed deep disappointment in the prosecutors’ decision to charge him. He emphasized that the charges were based on an innovative legal theory that could have far-reaching repercussions for all software developers. Klein stated, “There is much more to this narrative that will be unveiled during the trial.”

It is worth noting that last August, Alexey Pertsev, purportedly the third co-founder of the platform, was arrested in the Netherlands on charges related to money laundering. Currently under house arrest, Pertsev is awaiting trial in the Netherlands.

Although the Tornado Cash website has been removed from the internet, it remains accessible through specific online archives.

Agents from the New York field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), collaborating with other agencies, are actively working to locate Semenov, with the investigation ongoing, stated James Smith, the assistant director overseeing the branch.

As criminals continually seek novel methods to obscure and launder their illicit gains, whether through cryptocurrency or mixers, the FBI is adapting its approach accordingly. Smith affirmed, “Expect to witness more cases of this nature in the future.”

Prosecutors further alleged that the service was employed by the Lazarus Group to launder hacking proceeds during April and May of 2022, contravening U.S. sanctions. Although the co-founders introduced a change to the service to ostensibly comply with sanctions, private conversations revealed their acknowledgment that this modification was ineffective.

The imposition of sanctions on Tornado Cash approximately one year ago reverberated across the cryptocurrency realm. The blacklisting prompted the freezing of millions of dollars in digital assets to adhere to the directive. The decentralized finance sector expressed unease over what some perceived as excessive government pressure.

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