Fugitive SA crypto developer 'Fluffypony' arrested in the US

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Riccardo Spagni.
Riccardo Spagni.
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  • South African cryptocurrency developer Riccardo "Fluffypony" Spagni has been taken into custody by US Marshals.  
  • Spagni allegedly fled to the US from South Africa to escape fraud charges related to falsifying invoices in a case that dates back to 2009. 
  • Spagni has tweeted that the arrest is due to a "misunderstanding". 

   

Authorities in the US have arrested well-known South African cryptocurrency developer Riccardo Spagni after he allegedly fled to the country to escape fraud charges back home that could put him in jail for 20 years.

Spagni, better know in tech circles by his alias "Fluffypony", was arrested on July 20 on his way to Mexico from New York and is currently in the custody of the US Marshals service.

He is the former lead maintainer for Monero, a cryptocurrency that is focused on privacy. The charges he is facing in SA are unrelated to the coin.

On Thursday, Spagni retweeted a tweet from his verified account to say that the arrest stems from a "misunderstanding" in the "setting of court dates".

According to US court documents, Spagni is accused of using falsified invoices to defraud his former employer Cape Cookies of R1.4 million between October 2009 and June 2011. He was at the time the group's IT manager.

The case against him seems to have to have been opened back in 2012. The court documents do not state why it took so long to come to trial.

While he initially pleaded not guilty on fraud charges, he then failed to appear in court. 

"South African authorities attempted to locate Spagni at his home address and through contacts with his friends and family, but to no avail. Further investigation revealed that Spagni had fled South Africa," state the documents. 

Following his no-show, a warrant was issued for his arrest in late April.

Once it had been confirmed that Spagni had fled to the US, South African authorities approached their US counterparts to ask that he be provisionally arrested ahead of an extradition hearing.

Headed to Mexico on a private jet

Spagni was arrested on July 20 after the private jet he had chartered in New York made a stop in Nashville, Tennessee to refuel. The jet was scheduled to fly to Los Cabos, Mexico.

The South African was taken into custody "without incident" when he deplaned, according to the court documents. 

The state is arguing that he be denied bail ahead of an extradition hearing, as he is a flight risk.

"Spagni has a history of failing to appear and evading justice. He failed to appear for trial at the Cape Town Regional Court in the matter underlying the instant request. Further, because he has avoided returning to the relevant court in South Africa, this court has reason to surmise that he will continue trying to evade justice."

US authorities further state that the fact that Spagni is facing up to 20 years in jail if convicted back in SA has only increased his risk of flight.

He is also alleged to have "significant cryptocurrency assets that would enable him to flee".

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