Thai Police Seize $21 Million in Assets from Dead Founder of Dark Website

Pimuk Rakkanam
Bangkok
2017-07-24
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170724-TH-dark-web-620.jpg Thailand Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Chalermkiat Sriworakhan (left) and Lt. Gen. Sommai Kongvisaisuk, head of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, inspect the infographic about the AlphaBay web marketplace, July 24, 2017.
Pimuk Rakkanam/BenarNews

Thai police said Monday they had seized millions of dollars in assets belonging to the founder of AlphaBay, the world’s most profitable dark web marketplace, where users traded illicit goods, including drugs and weapons.

Officials said they froze 726 million baht (U.S. $21.73 million) in assets – from luxury vehicles to crypto-currency – owned by Alexander Joseph Cazes, a Canadian who allegedly committed suicide on July 12 while in Thai custody prior to extradition to the United States.

Cazes, 25, and his Thai wife, Sunisa Cazes, were arrested at their home in Bangkok on July 5 at the request of the United States, deputy national police chief Gen. Chalermkiat Sriworakhan told a news conference.

The dark web is the term for content that exists on darknets, computer networks built on top of other networks that can be accessed only with specific software. Connections are re-routed through layers of servers, allowing users to remain anonymous.

Websites on the dark web are not indexed, meaning online surfers will not see them by doing a Google search.

Lt. Gen. Sommai Kongvisaisuk, chief of Thai police’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau, told reporters that Cazes managed the world’s biggest online merchant of drugs and illicit items from his home in Bangkok.

“The whole world was in his hand,” Sommai said during the news conference.

Cazes was from Quebec, Canada, and launched AlphaBay in 2014 in Thailand, where he had been living for almost four years, officials said.

AlphaBay had more than 350,000 listings for illegal drugs, stolen and fraudulent identification documents, counterfeit goods, malware, firearms and fraudulent services around the time that it was taken down, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

It said AlphaBay took the place of Silk Road, another dark web marketplace shut down by the FBI in November 2013. Silk Road, which was then the largest marketplace, had only 14,000 listings when it was seized.

Thai officials said among Cazes’s assets seized are a villa in resort Island of Phuket, valued at 200 million baht ($5.9 million), a house valued at 99 million baht ($2.96 million) in Bangkok, a 2013 Lamborghini Aventador, a Porsche Panamera, millions of dollars in digital currencies and computers.

Dealing with cryptocurrencies

Lt. Gen. Sommai said Cazes ran the AlphaBay website from his base in Thailand, designating what crypto-currencies, such as bitcoin and Z-cash, could be used for trading.

“There are more than 200,000 users worldwide. About 180,000 are drug users and more than 200,000 are clients of illegal items,” Sommai said about AlphaBay.

“We seized huge amount of assets. I think he had tens of millions of baht in bitcoins that can be exchanged to other currencies. We seized ‘physical’ assets of more than 700 million baht ($21 million),” Sommai said.

U.S. officials said Cazes faced charges related to narcotics distribution, identity theft, money laundering and other crimes, while his wife, who remains in police custody in Bangkok, faces a money laundering charge.

Six countries – the United States, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Thailand – joined forces July 5 to 20 during the “Operation Bayonet,” a law-enforcement operation to shut down AlphaBay’s infrastructure, according to the news release from Thailand’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau.

Sommai said Thai agencies, together with the FBI and the DEA agents, raided Cazes’ home.

He said Cazes’ death had little impact on investigation to identify more suspects.

Asked to explain what might have forced Cazes to take his own life, Sommai replied, “I guess just because world criminals would not feel safe when they are sent back.”

He said Thai forensic experts have confirmed Cazes’ death as a suicide.

Despite his technical skills needed to create a secret marketplace, U.S. officials said Cazes was brought down by his unencrypted laptop and a Hotmail address.

By his own accounting, based on documents found in his laptop, Cazes was worth about $23 million, including $12.5 million in properties and vehicles, according to CBC News in Montreal.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions described the AlphaBay shut down as “likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year.

“Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a new challenge from the criminals and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crimes with impunity using the dark net,” he said. “The dark net is not a place to hide.”

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