|Paul Le Roux|
By Farantgh - Own work
One of the (many) times I have been heckled during a panel on crypto was when I argued that it shouldn’t be thought of as money. The only reason to use it other than for speculation, I said, was to buy drugs on the internet. This was a preposterous idea, the heckler retorted; crypto is used for so much more than that.and ends:
So in a funny way, my heckler was right: crypto isn’t just used for speculating on and buying drugs on the internet: it’s used for much murkier criminal activities, too.Below the fold I discuss the details of the "murkier criminal activities".
Kelley riffs on two main sources. First, the CFTC's lawsuit against Binance:
the Commodity Futures Trading Commission alleges that Binance’s former chief compliance officer said of certain Binance customers: “Like come on. They are here for crime.” The exchange’s money laundering reporting officer, according to the CFTC, agreed: “We see the bad, but we close 2 eyes.”Second, Chainalysis' fascinating 109-page Crypto Crime Report. This reveals that:
Despite the market downturn, illicit transaction volume rose for the second consecutive year, hitting an all-time high of $20.6 billion. We have to stress that this is a lower bound estimate — our measure of illicit transaction volume is sure to grow over time as we identify new addresses associated with illicit activity, and we have to keep in mind that this figure doesn’t capture proceeds from non-crypto native crime (e.g. conventional drug trafficking involving cryptocurrency as a mode of payment). For example, last year we published that we found $14 billion in illicit activity in 2021 — we’ve now raised that figure to $18 billion, mostly due to the discovery of new crypto scams.Chainalysis notes a major change in the profile:
It’s also worth keeping in mind that 43% of 2022’s illicit transaction volume came from activity associated with sanctioned entities, in a year when OFAC launched some of its most ambitious and difficult-to-enforce crypto sanctions yet. Crypto exchange Garantex, which accounted for the majority of sanctions-related transaction volume last year, is a great example. OFAC sanctioned Garantex in April 2022, but as a Russia-based business, the exchange has been able to continue operating with impunity. Transactions associated with Garantex or any other sanctioned crypto service represent, at the very least, substantial compliance risk for businesses that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction, including fines and potential criminal charges.And these caveats:
- These are lower bound estimates that will likely rise over time as additional illicit activity is discovered.
- This does not include off-chain criminal activity where proceeds may have been moved into crypto for laundering, though that activity can still be traced.
- This does not include volumes associated with centralized services that collapsed in 2022, some of which are facing charges of fraud, given lack of off-chain insights.
- Funds received by sanctioned entity Garantex accounts for much of 2022’s illicit volume. While most of that activity is likely Russian users using a Russian exchange, most compliance professionals treat this as illicit activity.
Crypto enthusiasts argue that it’s wrong to claim that it enables crime because the technology itself is “neutral” so cannot be blamed for any illicit activity. But this simply isn’t true: crypto was designed as a censorship-resistant payment mechanism that operates outside the traditional financial system and beyond the remit of regulators. Crypto transactions are not subjected to the same fraud detection, anti-money laundering or suspicious activity checks that traditional ones are. Operating outside the system is its very raison d’être.Why was Bitcoin, the first successful cryptocurrency "designed as a censorship-resistant payment mechanism"? It is often and credibly said that this was because it emerged from the cypherpunk mileu; as far as Bitcoin was the culmination of long histories of academic research and digital currency experiments this is true. Crime was a raison d’être of some of Bitcoin's predecessors, such as Liberty Reserve (2006-2013). But in By The Claw, Satoshi Is Revealed Michel de Cryptadamus argues that criminality was the primary motivation for the design of Bitcoin.
First, who has Hal Finney's keys? Cryptadamus writes:
Hal Finney died of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) after a long illness. He knew he was going to die for quite a long time before he finally actually died. I have read in a few places that Hal made it known he had made arrangements to transfer his keys to his heirs.And:
Hal Finney’s wife reactivated Hal’s Twitter account 3 days after this message was sent. It had been dormant for 12 years. At a minimum this is very interesting timing.The idea that Hal Finney's wife might know who was the sender of the first transaction is plausible. Thus, second, who is Paul Leroux? His Wikipedia page tells an amazing story. It starts:
Paul Calder Le Roux (born 24 December 1972) is a former programmer, former criminal cartel boss, and informant to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).You can get some idea of his level of criminality from the fact that the "lesser sentence" was 25 years.
In 1999, he created E4M, a free and open-source disk encryption software program for Microsoft Windows, and is sometimes credited for open-source TrueCrypt, which is based on E4M's code, though he denies involvement with TrueCrypt.
Le Roux was arrested on 26 September 2012 for conspiracy to import narcotics into the United States, and agreed to cooperate with authorities in exchange for a lesser sentence and immunity to any crimes he might admit to later. He subsequently admitted to arranging or participating in seven murders, carried out as part of an extensive illegal business empire.
Le Roux was sentenced to 25 years in prison in June 2020.
Cryptadamus' eloquent case that Le Roux is Nakamoto boils down to:
- He was probably the author of TrueCrypt, an exceptionally fine program, so had the necessary cryptography and programming skills.
- As the mastermind of a major international criminal enterprise he had a pressing need for "a censorship-resistant payment mechanism that operates outside the traditional financial system".
- At the time of Le Roux's arrest, Nakamoto's stash of about 1M BTC was "worth" about $12.4M, not a significant amount for the mastermind of a major international criminal enterprise. Since his arrest, Le Roux couldn't access the stash, currently "worth" about $30B. This would explain why the stash has remained untouched.