NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Thursday filed criminal charges accusing four founders and executives of BitMEX, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency derivatives exchanges, of evading rules designed to stop money laundering.
The U.S. Department of Justice charged Arthur Hayes, Samuel Reed and Benjamin Delo, who together founded BitMEX in 2014, and Gregory Dwyer, its first employee and later head of business development, with violating the federal Bank Secrecy Act and conspiring to violate that law.
Hayes, 34, of Buffalo, New York and Hong Kong, is also chief executive of BitMEX, while Reed is its chief technology officer. BitMEX is short for Bitcoin Mercantile Exchange.
The defendants’ lawyers could not immediately be identified. BitMEX did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
According to an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court, the defendants flouted their obligation to implement an anti-money laundering program that included a “know your customer” requirement, which they knew was needed because BitMEX served U.S. customers.
Their steps allegedly included incorporating BitMEX in the Seychelles because of its seemingly less stringent regulations, and where Hayes once bragged it would cost less to bribe authorities – just “a coconut” – than in the United States.
BitMEX ultimately made itself a “vehicle” for money laundering and sanctions violations, which included claims it was used to launder proceeds of a cryptocurrency hack and that customers from Iran traded on its platform, the indictment said.
The defendants “will soon learn the price of their alleged crimes will not be paid with tropical fruit,” FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said in a statement.
Each count carries a maximum five-year prison term. Reed was arrested in Massachusetts and the other defendants are at large.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a separate civil lawsuit to halt BitMEX’s U.S. commodity derivatives business.
CoinMarketCap, a cryptocurrency data website, on Thursday said BitMEX was the second-largest cryptocurrency derivatives exchange based on volume in the previous 24 hours, trailing Binance.
The case is U.S. v. Hayes et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 20-cr-00500.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Steve Orlofsky