Law enforcement officials in Minsk are seeking international help to locate and arrest the man who allegedly ran what was allegedly the largest online cryptocurrency exchange in Belarus. The crypto trader has been accused of tax evasion and an investigation into three of his accomplices has estimated losses to the state at $3.5 million.
Belarusian operator of Bitok.me now wanted internationally for tax crimes
Authorities in Belarus recently closed a criminal investigation into three residents of the city of Lida who helped the owner of an illegal crypto exchange platform evade taxation. Vladislav Kuchinsky, who ran Bitok.me (formerly Bitok.by) for two years, was charged with “tax evasion on a particularly large scale” and put on an international wanted list.
During this time, Kuchinsky and his “representatives” used the platform to facilitate the buying and selling of “digital tokens (tokens)”, the legal term used to define cryptocurrencies under Belarusian law, with fiat cash and non-cash payments facilitate. They also offered exchanges between cryptocurrencies, the investigative committee of Belarus stated this week.
In total, Bitok operators conducted nearly 8,000 digital currency transactions totaling over $29 million, according to a detailed press release. The estimated damage to the state budget from tax evasion in their activities amounted to more than 9 million Belarusian rubles (over $3.5 million at current exchange rates).
Officials in Minsk also pointed out that the suspects used anonymization tools, SIM cards registered under fake identities, and accounts on foreign crypto platforms that allowed them to stay under the radar. Eventually, investigators were able to identify all participants in the crypto trading system, intercept their correspondence with clients, and trace their fund transfers.
During searches, police seized computer equipment, documents and $280,000 in cash. Belarusian law enforcement officials also managed to trace the bank accounts used by the defendants in Belarus and Georgia with a balance of 2 million rubles (almost $800,000) and arrest them.
With the support of Moscow, Belarus received a database with information on 2,000 Bitok customers, whose activities are also being investigated. Those who made the largest transactions that exceeded $50,000 in fiat equivalent were interrogated, the investigative branch said.
Crypto Exchanger continues operations despite ongoing investigations
Despite the imprisonment of his accomplices and their prosecution, Vladislav Kuchinsky continued to operate the online moneychanger, advising customers to ignore calls from law enforcement and attempting to withdraw funds from the frozen accounts. Belarus has now issued an international arrest warrant for the Bitok owner, charging him with absentee tax evasion.
The investigative committee emphasized that the operation of the crypto trading service is illegal as it is not properly registered as a resident of the Belarusian High-Tech Park (HTP). The latter is responsible for implementing a special legal regime put in place to facilitate the development of the country’s digital economy, including its crypto sector.
Belarus legalized crypto-asset-related business activities with a decree signed by President Alexander Lukashenko in 2017, which came into effect in the spring of the following year. It introduced tax breaks and other incentives for companies trading digital currencies and registering with the HTP in Minsk.
Despite Lukashenko hinting at a possible tightening of rules for the industry last spring and ordering the creation of a crypto wallet registry, and despite a ban on using bitcoin for payments, Belarus largely ranked third in terms of crypto adoption in Eastern Europe due to strong peer-to-peer activity, according to the Crypto Adoption Index compiled by blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis.
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