Today’s Tornado Cash landmark hearing turned out to be a strong message to software developers everywhere: “If you can code it, you can do time for it.”

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Alexey Pertsev, the founder of Tornado Cash, was found guilty in a ruling that could change the course of privacy software development. As per the ruling, the 31-year-old will spend the next 64 months in prison for money laundering up to $1.2 billion.


Free Alex Pertsev’s poster seen outside the courthouse. Source: CoinDesk

Previous court indictiments indicated that Pertsev turned money laundering into a habit between 9th July 2019 and 10th August 2022. The least he could do, continues the filings, was to suspect the criminal origin of funds going through Tornado Cash.

Related: Tornado Cash Battles Treasury Sanctions in Federal Appeal

The United States government first blacklisted Tornado Cash following a statement by the U.S. Treasury alleging the platform was a key tool for North Korea’s cybercriminal group, Lazarus. As a result, Alexey Pertsev was arrested near an Amsterdam suburb and jailed in August 2022. The Lazarus Group, which the Treasury associated Alexey with, has been tied to major crypto hacks worth millions of dollars including the Ronin Hack.

Users Can Do as they Please with Open-Source Code – Pertsev Defense

The fate of future trials hangs in the balance for privacy software developers since juries are likely to reference Pertsev’s hearing. Besides, authorities are still going after Roman Storm and Roman Semenov who are also facing money laundering allegations for helping develop the Tornado Cash crypto mixer. While Storm got arrested in 2023, Semenov is yet to be scooped by the authorities. However, due to the difference between Dutch and U.S laws, Storm is not facing allegations of laundering $1.2 billion like his colleague Alexey Pertsev.

In the case against Pertsev in the Netherlands, prosecutors made it clear that the Tornado Cash founder did little to combat criminals from using his platform to launder illicit funds.

The defense came in with a zinger, countering that the prosecutors were overlooking a teensy detail: the open-source, do-it-yourself vibe of the smart contracts powering Tornado Cash. Pertsev threw in his two cents, saying it was downright ludicrous to hold him accountable for Tornado Cash’s users, who are as anonymous and self-sufficient as internet cats. 

Users do their own thing, and like Levee the Black Trumpet player in Marainey’s Blackbottom, these users are their own men

Is there a Collision Between Decentralization Values and Money Laundering Regulations?

However, the judge could take none of that and argued the Tornado Cash chief could care less about laws and regulations applying to everyone under the pretense of ideology. Meanwhile, the trial also touched on whether regulations designed to tackle money laundering could accommodate innovations across decentralized finance.

The defense continued to argue that its solution was only part of a solution for an inherent problem facing privacy on the publicly transparent Ethereum blockchain. As such, no party could possibly prevent users from using the open-source smart contract the way they wanted. Besides, the authority on Tornado Cash came from each contributor across the decentralized organization that was set up to govern the crypto mixer.

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However, the prosecutors have long argued that the virtues and principles of technology cannot outweigh the legal obligations of preventing criminal activity and sanctioned entities from transacting.

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