Liberty Reserve, Hub For Cybercrime Money, Shut Down By U.S. Government

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NEW YORK - U.S. authorities said on Tuesday they have shut down a Costa Rica-based money transfer company that allegedly provided a digital currency widely used around the world by cyber-criminals.

In a statement, officials said authorities in Spain, Costa Rica and New York arrested five people on Friday and seized bank accounts and Internet domains associated with the company, Liberty Reserve.

The digital currency is a transferable unit that can be exchanged for cash.

Along with the five arrests, prosecutors filed charges against two more company employees, who were still at large in Costa Rica.

According to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, "Liberty Reserve has emerged as one of the principal means by which cyber-criminals around the world distribute, store and launder the proceeds of their illegal activity."

The indictment said the company had more than a million users worldwide, including at least 200,000 in the United States, and virtually all of its business was related to suspected criminal activity.

It processed around 12 million financial transactions per year. Since it began operating in 2006, the indictment said, Liberty Reserve laundered around $6 billion in criminal proceeds.

On Tuesday, the company's website, www.libertyreserve.com, displayed the message "This domain name has been seized by the United States Global Illicit Financial Team."

It was not clear whether the people arrested in Spain and Costa Rica would be extradited to the United States or when the two people arrested in Brooklyn, New York, would appear in court.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

(Reporting by Emily Flitter; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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