There were hints

‘Dark­net’ mas­ter­mind lived a flashy life

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS -

The neigh­bours had their sus­pi­cions.

The young Canadian ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing the world’s lead­ing “dark­net” in­ter­net mar­ket­place lived a seem­ingly quiet life for more than a year with his Thai girl­friend in a mid­dle­class neigh­bour­hood on the out­skirts of Bangkok. But the flashy cars he drove stood out. There was the nearly $1 mil­lion, metal­lic grey Lam­borgh­ini. There was the Porsche, and then the Mini Cooper for his girl­friend. All in an area where peo­ple drive pickup trucks and chil­dren tool around on plas­tic tri­cy­cles.

The neigh­bours thought 25-year-old Alexan­dre Cazes worked in the ho­tel busi­ness. But ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment, he was the mas­ter­mind of Al­phaBay, an in­ter­net mar­ket­place that traded in il­le­gal drugs, firearms and coun­ter­feit goods.

By the time au­thor­i­ties closed in on July 5, Cazes had amassed a $23 mil­lion for­tune as the site’s cre­ator and ad­min­is­tra­tor, court doc­u­ments show.

On Thurs­day, U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials gave de­tails of the global po­lice op­er­a­tion that brought down Cazes, who re­port­edly hanged him­self in his Thai jail cell a week af­ter his ar­rest, and dealt a se­ri­ous blow to il­licit in­ter­net com­merce.

In­ter­views with Cazes’ neigh­bours paint a pic­ture of a young man who dis­played flashes of os­ten­ta­tion but oth­er­wise seemed unas­sum­ing.

“He was with his girl­friend,” said a neigh­bour, Has­sanupong Pootrakul­chote. “Around New Year’s or Christ­mas I saw some of his friends come over and they would have a lit­tle party. There were Thai peo­ple, some of them were his girl­friend’s rel­a­tives ... Other than that it’s mostly quiet, noth­ing flashy or any­thing.”

Noth­ing ex­cept those ex­pen­sive cars, which were com­pletely out of place in the neigh­bour­hood where homes cost less than $120,000.

“Why does he have a Lam­borgh­ini? Why does he have a Porsche or Mini Cooper?” Has­sanupong said. “There are re­cent news re­ports about peo­ple laun­der­ing money and that sort of thing. But like I said, I thought he was in the ho­tel busi­ness.”

Soon enough, talk in the neigh­bour­hood was that Cazes was ready to im­prove his stan­dard of liv­ing.

At the time of his ar­rest, he was build­ing a pala­tial home about 20 min­utes away in a far more up­scale area. The price tag? More than $1.1 mil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, he also owned a lux­ury villa on the edge of a cliff in the hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion of Phuket and a $400,000 villa in An­tigua.

Much of Cazes’ for­tune was in dig­i­tal cur­ren­cies, the court doc­u­ments show. He bought real es­tate and lux­ury cars, in­clud­ing the $900,000 Lam­borgh­ini, and pur­sued “eco­nomic cit­i­zen­ship” in Liecht­en­stein, Cyprus and Thai­land.

He used what he claimed was a web de­sign com­pany, EBX Tech­nolo­gies, as a front, the in­dict­ment said.

But his life in the Bangkok sub­urbs ap­peared sta­ble, neigh­bours said.

One neigh­bour, who asked not to be named be­cause the case in­volves crime, said Cazes rarely left the house be­fore noon. She said she got her first good look at him one day when was out­side, try­ing to photograph a mon­i­tor lizard that had crawled out of a de­serted field nearby.

“We smiled at each other, that’s it,” she said. Dark­net web­sites have thrived since the 2011 ap­pear­ance of the Silk Road bazaar, which was taken down two years later.

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