Que­bec man iden­ti­fied as mas­ter­mind be­hind world’s lead­ing “dark­net”

Au­thor­i­ties claim Alexan­dre Cazes, who died in cus­tody, amassed a for­tune of $23 mil­lion

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MOR­GAN LOWRIE

The fam­ily of a late Canadian man ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing the world’s lead­ing “dark­net” in­ter­net mar­ket­place said Fri­day they’re hav­ing a hard time be­liev­ing he was a hard­ened crim­i­nal.

Alexan­dre Cazes, 25, from Trois-Rivières, Que., is ac­cused of cre­at­ing Al­phaBay, an on­line mar­ket­place that au­thor­i­ties say traded in il­le­gal drugs, firearms and coun­ter­feit goods.

Cazes was ar­rested by po­lice in Thai­land in early July, and of­fi­cials have said he hanged him­self while in their cus­tody on July 12, just be­fore a sched­uled court hear­ing.

Au­thor­i­ties said they have sought the for­fei­ture of Cazes’s prop­er­ties in Thai­land, bank ac­counts and four ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing a Lam­borgh­ini and a Porsche, and said he amassed a for­tune of $23 mil­lion with the cre­ation of Al­phaBay in 2014.

But Cazes’s fam­ily is dis­put­ing the U.S. au­thor­i­ties’ por­trayal of the Que­be­cer as a crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind. “If what the FBI says is to­tally true, well, that’s not the Alexan­dre Cazes we know,” his step­mother Kathy Gau­thier told The Canadian Press in a Face­book pri­vate mes­sage.

“(If it’s true) we’ll still love him and for­give him,” she said.

In a se­ries of mes­sages pub­lished on so­cial me­dia, Gau­thier de­scribed Cazes as an “in­tro­verted and peace­ful” young man who amassed a for­tune by in­vest­ing in dig­i­tal cur­ren­cies.

She ques­tioned whether au­thor­i­ties were ex­ag­ger­at­ing his al­leged role be­cause they needed some­one to blame.

“Now that Alex is dead it’s hard to have in­for­ma­tion, so why not put all the counts on Alex’s back,” she wrote Fri­day.

On Thurs­day, U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials gave de­tails of the global po­lice op­er­a­tion that brought down Cazes.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, he ac­ci­den­tally broad­cast his per­sonal Hot­mail ad­dress in wel­come mes­sages sent to new users. And when he was tracked down and ar­rested in Thai­land, Cazes was logged into the Al­phaBay web­site as its ad­min­is­tra­tor, al­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors ac­cess to pass­words and other in­for­ma­tion.

The site went off-line July 5 af­ter Cazes’s ar­rest in Thai­land.

In an in­ter­view last week with lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion 106.9 FM, Cazes’s fa­ther said the 25-year-old had no pre­vi­ous his­tory with the law.

“He never had a crim­i­nal record,” Martin Cazes told the sta­tion. “He never smoked a ci­garette, never took drugs.”

He de­scribed his son as a “com­puter ge­nius” who built web­sites and com­puter pro­grams through EBX Tech­nolo­gies, a com­pany he founded in 2009.

Philippe Gravel, in­ves­ti­ga­tor with In­te­grated Tech­no­log­i­cal Crime Unit of the RCMP, said the force be­came in­volved in the case in Jan­uary, when the FBI and DEA asked it to help lo­cate Cazes in Que­bec.

“We started a par­al­lel in­ves­ti­ga­tion at that time, in or­der to build a pro­file on him in the prov­ince of Que­bec,” Gravel said. “We don’t ex­clude there be­ing other ar­rests in this case.”

Gravel said Cazes’s ar­rest will make those who buy weapons and drugs on the in­ter­net think twice.

“Our first goal was to shut down the site,” he said. “Our sec­ond was to hurt the cred­i­bil­ity of the site and the con­fi­dence of peo­ple us­ing this type of ser­vice, know­ing at any time th­ese sites can be seized or even op­er­ated by po­lice.”

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

An ac­quain­tance who knew Cazes when he was a stu­dent in Trois-Rivières re­mem­bers him as friendly, help­ful and hard-work­ing but am­bi­tious.

Nev­er­the­less, she said she wasn’t en­tirely sur­prised by the al­le­ga­tions against him. “He was al­ways look­ing for good busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. I won­der if maybe he took the easy road,” she said.

Cazes’s neigh­bours in Thai­land painted a pic­ture of a young man who dis­played flashes of os­ten­ta­tion but oth­er­wise seemed unas­sum­ing.

In Wash­ing­ton on Thurs­day, U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said the op­er­a­tion to shut down Al­phaBay was the largest dark­net mar­ket­place take­down in his­tory.

Dark­net ven­dors are “pour­ing fuel on the fire of the na­tional drug epi­demic,” he said, specif­i­cally cit­ing cases of two U.S. teenagers killed this year, one a 13-year-old Utah boy, by over­doses of syn­thetic opi­oids pur­chased on Al­phaBay.

SAKCHAI LALIT, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The home of Alexan­dre Cazes in Bangkok, Thai­land. The Canadian ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing Al­phaBay, the world’s lead­ing “dark­net” in­ter­net mar­ket­place, ap­par­ently hanged him­self be­fore a court hear­ing.

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