| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Aug 14 A former manager at indicted
digital currency exchange Liberty Reserve pleaded guilty on
Thursday in New York to federal charges of conspiracy and
operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
Azzedine El Amine, 47, a Costa Rica citizen, has agreed to
cooperate with prosecutors as they pursue charges against others
who worked for the exchange, which the government has said
helped criminals launder more than $6 billion in illicit funds.
At a hearing in Manhattan federal court, El Amine told U.S.
District Judge Denise Cote he had helped process money transfers
involving funds he knew to be from criminal activities, and that
the transactions were intended to conceal customer identities.
"That's how Liberty Reserve made a lot of money," he said.
The plea comes 10 months after Vladimir Kats, the co-founder
of Liberty Reserve, reached his own deal with prosecutors.
The case, which Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has
said is perhaps "the largest international money laundering case
ever brought by the United States," includes five other
individual defendants as well as Liberty Reserve itself.
Arthur Budovsky, the other co-founder, remains in Spain,
where he is fighting extradition. Technology designer Mark
Marmilev and Maxim Chukharev are scheduled to face trial next
year, while two other employees, Ahmed Yassine Abdelghani and
Allan Esteban Hidalgo Jimenez, are at large in Costa Rica.
Prosecutors have said Liberty Reserve had more than a
million users worldwide, including at least 200,000 in the
United States, when it was shuttered in May 2013. Virtually all
of its business was related to suspected criminal activity, from
child pornography to drug trafficking to computer hacking,
according to authorities.
The use of digital currency has expanded rapidly in recent
years, drawing the attention of U.S. regulators concerned about
the potential for money laundering.
The top charge against El Amine carries a maximum 20-year
prison term, although his sentence would likely take into
account whether he provides substantial assistance to the
(Reporting by Joseph Ax. Editing by Andre Grenon)