Crypto: 5 years in prison for developing an application!

Digital privacy advocates are aghast. Alexey Pertsev, the developer behind the Tornado Cash protocol, has just received a very heavy prison sentence in the Netherlands. His crime? Having created a tool that could theoretically improve the confidentiality of crypto transactions, but accused of having facilitated massive laundering of dirty money.

A conviction for money laundering!

The pill is anything but easy to swallow for the crypto community. A panel of three Dutch judges sentenced Alexey Pertsev to the astronomical sentence of 5 years and 4 months in prison. The reason ? Having enabled the laundering of $1.2 billion in illicit assets according to the indictment, via the Tornado Cash transaction mixing protocol.

A sanction of rare severity when we know that this application is non-depository, that is to say that it has no control over the funds passing through it. The magistrates held Pertsev responsible for malicious uses by third parties of his open source code, a controversial approach to say the least.

The verdict hits the Russian developer hard, arrested as soon as August 2022 following the blacklisting of Tornado Cash by the United States. His team has 14 days to appeal.

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Controversy over the responsibility of crypto developers

Beyond Pertsev's fate, all creators of decentralized applications find themselves threatened. This decision could set a dangerous precedent by criminalizing in advance any code deemed vulnerable to illicit activity.

Thus, the judges considered that the crypto developer should have provided anti-money laundering safeguards on Tornado Cash. But can we really require a developer to restrict in advance the freedom of their own open source code?

Prosecutors also pointed to the proven use of the protocol by cybercriminals like Lazarus. A justification that is debated: should we therefore censor all confidentiality tools on the pretext that they can be misused?

The heavy conviction of Alexey Pertsev for alleged money laundering via Tornado Cash risks opening a veritable Pandora's box. By establishing such a controversial precedent, justice seems to want to erect strict safeguards against crypto anonymization tools. A posture that is paradoxical to say the least when we know the democratic virtues of cryptography for the preservation of fundamental freedoms.

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