One year and two months down the line, U.S. authorities who were among the key players in the seizure of AlphaBay Market have taken into possession the assets that belonged to Alexandre Cazes, a Canadian national who was allegedly the admin of the hidden marketplace.
The operation, which ended earlier this month, was carried out by the Fresno Division from the U.S. District Court in Eastern California.
The Forfeiture of the Assets
During the tenure of AlphaBay Market, Cazes amassed wealth running into millions of dollars.
In the process, he acquired luxury cars, beachfront homes in Cyprus, Thailand, St. Philips South and Antigua and Barbuda.
He also owned different types of digital assets all of which were already integrated into his marketplace as a mode of payment.
Court records indicate that the total value of the assets seized is approximately $12 million inclusive of the cryptocurrencies.
Among the cars owned by the Cazes and confiscated by the authorities is a Porsche Panamera worth $292,957, a Mini Cooper valued at $81,000 and a Lamborghini Aventador 2013 model with a custom number plate written “TOR” worth $900,000.
He also had a BMW motorcycle valued at $21,000 which was also nabbed by the authorities.
Then the cryptocurrencies confiscated were all sent to digital wallets under the control of the U.S. government.
Breakdown of Confiscated Crypto
The operation by the various law enforcement agencies that brought down AlphaBay led to the seizure of approximately $8 million worth of crypto assets.
It is said that Cazes would use tumbling services to clear traces of how he moved his funds.
Other digital assets confiscated from him were 8,309.27 worth of Ethereum, 3,691.98 ZEC, and an unknown amount of Monero, which U.S. authorities moved to their wallet.
Then since AlphaBay was hosted on multiple servers, Cazes ensured that not all of his assets were stored in the same wallet, but rather different ones depending on the type of cryptocurrency, the use for it and the amount.
So when the U.S. government took control of the servers, they moved 293.79 BTC, 43.05 BTC, 360.38 ETH, and 11,993.15 XMR from server 3203, 3164, 8131, and 10073 respectively.
Large Market Share of AlphaBay Was in the U.S.
Before its fall, AlphaBay was without a doubt the world’s top darknet market with both vendors and buyers conducting operations from different parts of the world.
However, the U.S. is one country where a significant fraction of the activities happened.
By that, more revenue generated by the market was from individuals based in the U.S., and hence the need for the authorities in the area to take part in the operation that led to the ultimate fall of AlphaBay.
From this, one can see the power that the U.S. government yields when it comes to matters of national interest particularly darknet markets which aid various forms of illicit activities within its borders.
Even though Cazes was not a U.S. citizen, neither was he arrested on American soil and his servers hosted in the country, the federal law gives exclusive rights to the authorities to charge, prosecute and even confiscate the assets of those involved in aiding criminal activities within the country.
The Darknet Kingpin Never Appeared Before Court
It is evident that before the arrest of Cazes in Thailand, some investigations had been ongoing for quite some time to narrow down on suspects and ultimately bring down the mastermind.
The apprehension of Cazes came shortly after the U.S. authorities issued their Thai counterparts an arrest warrant for the culprit.
It is then that police in Bangkok, together with American law enforcement agencies, swung into action and apprehended Cazes while he was in his house.
The arrest had to be tactical just as was the case for Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht because it was vital that they get his laptop unencrypted.
To achieve this, security personnel involved in the operation rammed a car into the gate of the suspect’s home in a bid to lure him.
What would then follow is to try as much as possible to get access to Cazes’ device before he can encrypt it—giving them exclusive access to the sensitive information needed for his prosecution.
Even though the plan worked and Cazes was successfully arrested, he ended up committing suicide while in a Thai prison just days later.
Law Enforcement’s Darknet Crackdown
To date, we continue hearing reports of vendors and moderators who worked in previous darknet sites getting arrested and charged for their alleged role in participating in illegal activities.
In the end, and based on the available evidence, some end up serving a few months in prison while others are serving life sentences.
Also, many vendors have created profiles in multiple sites using the same alias, product listings and even PGP.
On the other hand, law enforcement agencies like the Dutch police that took down Hansa Market are using this personal information by linking events that occurred at different times to each other.
Irrespective of whether one is a buyer, seller or a moderator, they can never really be sure of their safety—especially when they have used the darknet at one time or the other because very trivial information ends up exposing the truth, as has been witnessed before.
The Fight Against the Darknet Markets Has Just Begun
The fall of Silk Road brought disappoint to the darknet community, especially those who were fond of using the hub to undertake various types of activities.
What’s even worse, its demise was the first of its kind—sending jitters to those who played a role in the market because a majority had no idea of what would happen next.
When authorities brought down this market, many assumed that it is the end of such, but months later, AlphaBay came to light and grew to be over eight times the size of Silk Road.
Then when AlphaBay went down, Dream Market quickly emerged to take its place.
So based on the mistakes of previous market owners, the newly established marketplaces try to come up with new mechanisms of surviving the crackdown by law enforcement bodies.
In the end, this results in a game of whack-a-mole between the police agencies tasked with the responsibility of investigating darknet markets and the site admins, and in the event one market is brought down somewhere, another one will rise to serve the community.