Latvian law enforcement authorities have confiscated more than $127,000 in virtual currency through a high profile police operation. Apart from the cryptocurrency, the police also seized property worth $755,000 and cash from three suspects that were part of a scheme to defraud 1,000 victims.
Following the arrests, the apprehended individuals have been charged in court for cybercrime in criminal proceeding that commenced in February 2020.
The suspects faced a number of charges, including the purchase of collections of private account data on the darknet, money laundering by means of gold and crypto.
As it stands, it is reported that the now-convicted suspects are facing between three to twelve years behind bars.
An Online Criminal Operation
According to official reports, the cybercriminal group operated for five years before the police caught up with the cybercriminals – with specific information pointing to the fact that the cyber group was established in the year 2015.
Latvian law enforcement discovered the suspects’ robust criminal operation that is said to have been designed to compromise some of the world’s most popular online platforms such as Ebay, PayPal and Booking.com.
The police noted the group’s exploitation of darknet-purchased private data, which would be used to run the criminal enterprise that focused on compromising the online accounts belonging to persons living in Western Europe and the U.S.
Further details into the group’s dark web background show that the cybercriminals did not only heavily depended on underground sites that dealt in private data, which enabled them to gain access data that would open up to personal profiles in various online platforms.
In addition, it turned out that the cyber group used the dark web to source for compromised email credentials that would be used to gain illicit access to victims’ electronic payment data.
Investigators discovered the luxurious lifestyles that the suspects lived off criminal proceeds they gained through their operation. Apart from the large amount of cryptocurrency that was seized by police, law enforcement agents came across $323,000 in fiat cash, 11 real estate properties valued at $363,000 and three vehicles worth a combined $34,500.
A statement by the police confirmed that the criminals laundered money in the Baltic nation using a number of methodologies. The suspects purchased both movable and immovable property that was paid using criminal proceeds.
The illicit funds were also used to finance daily expenses such as fuel food and entertainment – apart from the fact that the trio used the proceeds of crime to invest in digital currency and gold.
The Latvian Money Laundering Predicament
Sometime in 2019, the Latvian Finance Minister Janis Reirs was quoted speaking about the money laundering problem that had soiled the country’s reputation.
As far as the year 2018, the U.S. government had floated accusations against Lativa’s third larget banking institution on charges of money laundering and compromising the sanctions laid against North Korea. The landmark event was followed by closure of the ABLV bank, which triggered the country’s worst financial crisis in ten years.
For years, international observers had noted the notorious role played by a number of Latvian banks in assisting criminal actors to launder the proceeds of illicit activities, and transfer the “cleaned” funds to offshore destinations.
Among the notable examples in recent Latvian history is the banking scandals involving Swedbank and Danske Bank – investigations lifted the lid on instances of large sums of money being cleaned through the Baltics.
Indeed, the bad publicity that accompanied Latvia’s banking shortcomings led to significant economic impacts, with honest investment being driven away amid U.S. pressure.
Today, Latvian officials have vowed to strike the corrupt banks that earned the Baltic state the unofficial title of “world money laundering center”.