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U.S. shuts down alleged online money-laundering outfit

Based in Costa Rica, Liberty Reserve has been accused of laundering more than $6 billion through its digital currency system, says The New York Times.

Online currency company Liberty Reserve has been shut down following charges that it laundered more than $6 billion over the past several years and became a "bank of choice for the criminal underworld," The New York Times reported today.

An indictment, filed today by U.S. prosecutors in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accused Liberty Reserve of establishing its digital currency exchange to launder money, resulting in 55 million laundering transactions for at least a million people.

Furthermore, prosecutors painted Liberty Reserve as a currency marketplace that enabled criminals to commit a host of illegal activities, including identify theft, credit card fraud, investment fraud, narcotics trafficking, and child pornography.

"This was really PayPal for criminals," a senior law enforcement official said, according to The Wall Street Journal, adding that the company was "able to facilitate all sorts of criminal conduct that would not otherwise happen."

The PayPal analogy is apt because Liberty Reserve works similarly, providing digital currency in exchange for real money. But people setting up accounts through Liberty Reserve are not required to offer proof of identity.

"Accounts could, therefore, be opened easily using fictitious or anonymous identities," according to the indictment.

Prosecutors in Spain, Costa Rica, and New York also arrested five men on Friday, including Arthur Budovsky, the founder of the company, Reuters reported today. Bank accounts and domain names associated with Liberty Reserve also have been seized. The company's Web site now displays an official banner saying that the domain name has been seized by the United States Global Illicit Financial Team.