The Civil Guard has arrested three of the six members of the leadership of the Bitzlato cryptocurrency platform in Spain. Dedicated to the exchange of cryptocurrencies, it is considered by Europol as one of the platforms most used by criminal laundering networks, according to the note published this Thursday by the Civil Guard. In the operation, 18 million euros have been intervened and more than 100 accounts have been blocked for an amount of 50 million euros.
The operation, which has been coordinated at a European level, has been carried out in Spain, France, Portugal, Cyprus and the United States. In France, the gendarmerie has dismantled all the technological infrastructure necessary for the operation of Bitzlato, a step that later allowed the three main managers of the platform to be arrested in Spain.
In Barcelona, the Central Operating Unit (UCO) has made two arrests, including that of Paul Lerner, 45, the company’s commercial director. In Valencia, another of the directors of the platform, Mykhailo Lunov (26 years old), has also been arrested. For both, provisional detention has been decreed for the moment. In addition, a total of eight registrations have been carried out in different countries, four of them in Spain. Among the seized material would be several high-end cars, computer devices and mobile phones, in addition to 60,000 euros in cash.
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The cryptocurrency exchange, founded in Russia in 2016 under the name BTC Banker, had become popular as a secure and anonymous P2P digital currency exchange platform and operated via Telegram. In 2018, and after strong growth, it launched a web platform and began its expansion outside of Russia, even presenting an application to be able to operate from the mobile.
The Civil Guard has also reported that details of more than 1,000 Bitzlato user accounts have been obtained. Europol is analyzing the information obtained, since many of these accounts would be directly linked to ongoing investigations related to cybercriminal organizations in the European Union. According to a study carried out by the blockchain analysis company Chainalysis, of the total transactions in which Bitzlato participated between 2019 and 2021 —for an amount of more than 2,000 million dollars—, at least 966 million came from cybercrime, mainly from the sale illegal services through the dark web and ransoms paid for cyber extortion, the result of ransomware-type computer hijackings.
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