SOFIA, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Investigators looking into crypto lender Nexo on Friday said that four citizens of Bulgaria had been accused of participating in an organised crime group for money laundering as well as tax and computer fraud.
Bulgarian prosecutors on Thursday said they launched an investigation into alleged illegal activities conducted by Nexo, carrying out raids at the lender’s office and 14 other sites in the capital Sofia.
Nexo had said after Thursday’s operations that the raided office was not customer facing but has only back office functions. It said it has enforced strict anti-money laundering and know-your-customer policies.
A Nexo spokesperson said the company would comment later on Friday.
Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor on Friday said the investigation had started several months back. Investigators were working in coordination with U.S. and British counterparts, and more than 20 people have been questioned. They planned to begin an audit of Nexo, they said.
Officials said two of the accused were already in detention, while the other two were being sought. They had operated in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Bulgaria and the Cayman Islands since 2018, officials said.
Some 300 investigators, police officers and security officers were involved in the operation on Thursday, which had been part of a pre-trial investigation “aimed at neutralising an illegal criminal activity” of Nexo, according to the prosecutors’ office.
Prosecutors on Friday said the accused had properties in Dubai and the Bahamas, including yachts. Some 35 artworks, including from Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, had been seized from one of the accused, investigators said.
According to Bulgarian prosecutors $94 billion has gone through the Nexo platform in the past five years.
Investigators said they had detected a number of transactions on Nexo from people and companies subject to European Union sanctions on Russia, without giving details.
Crypto lenders act like banks for the crypto world, offering customers interest on cryptocurrencies they deposit with the platform.
Lawmakers around the world have stepped up calls for regulation of crypto firms following the collapse of major exchange FTX last year.
Nexo in December said it would phase out its U.S. products and services over the coming months due to clashes with regulators.
Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Potter and Mark Porter
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