High profile South African crypto developer arrested for fraud

Riccardo “Fluffypony” Spagni has been arrested and held without bail in the United States pending a hearing for his extradition to South Africa to stand trial for fraud.

Spagni was the lead maintainer of the privacy-focussed Monero cryptocurrency for five years. He stepped down in December 2019.

He launched a blockchain startup called Tari Labs in South Africa in 2018 that offered a free online university to aid open-source blockchain projects and train developers.

Court documents show that the District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee issued a warrant for Spagni’s arrest on 20 July 2021.

Law enforcement arrested Spagni that same day as he tried to fly from New York City to Los Cabos in Mexico on a private jet via Nashville.

Spagni left the plane while it was being refuelled, and he was arrested at Nashville airport without incident.

The warrant for Spagni’s arrest in the US was granted at the request of the South African government after the Magistrate Court of the District of Cape Town issued a warrant for his arrest on 19 April 2021.

According to the court documents, Spagni is accused of defrauding Cape Cookies to the tune of R1,453,561.47.

Spagni was employed by Cape Cookies from 1 October 2009 to 8 June 2011 and allegedly intercepted invoices between the company and IT supplier Ensync.

He is accused of fabricating invoices from Ensync to Cape Cookies, placing the bank account details and VAT number of his own company on the documents.

The court documents state that Spagni inflated the invoice amounts, and it was found that Ensync’s actual invoices were then paid at a later date.

Spagni also stands accused of generating false invoices for three different fictitious IT suppliers.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges, then fled South Africa, according to the court documents.

The South African court issued a warrant for his arrest on 19 April 2021.

The South African Police Service posted a wanted notice for Spagni on 30 April.

US authorities applied for Spagni to be detained pending extradition proceedings because he was a flight risk — he had fled from South Africa and was on his way to Mexico — and the fact that he has the financial means to flee.

“Spagni is believed to have significant cryptocurrency assets that would enable him to flee,” the court documents state.

“He reportedly lectures worldwide on topics relating to cryptocurrency, [and] was the lead maintainer of Monero (a cryptocurrency project that aims to obfuscate the linkability of transactions),” it continued, adding that Spagni also reportedly has a watch valued at $800,000.

The court granted the application for Spagni’s detention.

“Spagni did not request a hearing on the United States’ motion for detention pending extradition proceedings at the initial appearance,” the order noted.

“Spagni may request a hearing on the United States’ motion for detention at any time.”

Subsequently, an order was issued today, 2 August, for a remote video hearing to be held on the motion asking that Spagni be detained until his extradition hearing.

Spagni’s extradition hearing is set for 17 September 2021, and the video hearing for his detainment was set for 5 August.

Coin Telegraph reported that if Spagni is convicted in South Africa, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

MyBroadband attempted to contact Spagni for comment via email and text message on Telegram, but he did not respond by the time of publication.

His spouse, Saskia Spagni, published the following statement on his behalf:

Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding with regards to the setting of court dates in an old matter, which I have continuously been trying to resolve since 2011, I have been held in contempt of court and currently awaiting extradition. I am hoping to resolve this misunderstanding within a short while. In the meantime my business affairs will continue under the leadership of my partners.

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High profile South African crypto developer arrested for fraud