The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Suspected AlphaBay founder dies in Bangkok jail after shutdown of online black market

Until earlier this month, AlphaBay served as a one-stop shop for illicit consumer needs online. Essentially an Internet-based black marketplace stationed on the dark Web and accessible only through an untraceable Tor browser, the platform hosted sales using bitcoin for everything from illegal drugs to stolen credit card data. With up to 300,000 listings, the site was conservatively hosting $600,000 to $800,000 a day in transactions, Wired reported, and was said to host more products than Silk Road, the illicit marketplace closed by U.S. authorities in 2014.

But on July 5, all that back alley commerce stopped when AlphaBay suddenly went dark. The shutdown was reportedly due to an effort by law enforcement across the world to bust the administrators running the website. And now the Bangkok Post and Sydney Morning Herald report that a Canadian national allegedly linked to AlphaBay has died in custody after he was arrested on the same day AlphaBay disappeared.

Canadian-born Alexandre Cazes, 26, was arrested by Thai authorities on July 5 at the request of U.S. authorities, according to the Morning Herald. Known online as DeSnake, Cazes was found last week dead in his cell at the Thai Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) in Laksi district of Bangkok.

The Bangkok Post reported Cazes was discovered in the bathroom of his cell hanging from a towel. The NSB’s Major General Soontorn Chalermkiat told the paper there are “no clues that suggest he didn’t hang himself.” Cazes was reportedly set to meet with an attorney about his extradition to the United States on drug trafficking charges an hour before his reported suicide. Another Thai official, Maj. Gen. Chayapote Hasoonha, told the Bangkok Post Cazes had been living in Thailand for about eight years and had a Thai wife. The official added Cazes’s spouse has been charged with money laundering.

“He was a computer expert involved with international transactions of bitcoins,” Chalermkiat told Agence France-Presse. “He didn’t have any business in Thailand but he had many houses.” The Bangkok paper said he also had four Lamborghini sports cars in Thailand.

Cazes’ father, Martin, told Journal de Montreal his son was “an extraordinary young man, with no history, no judicial record. He never smoked a cigarette, never used drugs.”

Neither the Canadian nor U.S. embassies in Thailand responded to The Washington Post’s request for further detail on Cazes’s arrest, extradition and reported death.

The AlphaBay shuttering comes after an uptick in law enforcement action aimed at the marketplace’s users — an indication that U.S. police have figured out how to skillfully mingle within the dark Web bazaar and target users.

“AlphaBay is dedicated and designed to facilitate the sale of illegal narcotics, drug paraphernalia, firearms, and counterfeit and fraud-related goods and services,” a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent wrote in an August 2016 affidavit related to federal charges against a 50-year-old Detroit man named Robert Kenneth Decker. “Illegal drugs, such as methamphetamines, heroin, and cocaine, are openly advertised and sold and are immediately and prominently visible on the Alphabay website.”

Operating under the handle “DIGITALPOSSI2014,” Decker was tied to 10,738 transactions on AlphaBay, including deals in which he sold and mailed hydrocodone to undercover law enforcement in exchange for bitcoins. After his arrest in late 2016, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and one of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Decker was sentenced to 140 months in prison.

With the website now dark, illicit e-commerce is struggling to find a new home. Like Silk Road, AlphaBay left a gaping hole in the marketplace when it disappeared.

“It’s been really chaotic,” Nicolas Christin, a Carnegie Mellon professor of computer science and public policy, recently told Wired. “When you have a site like AlphaBay going down, it puts a lot of stress on the other players. It’s stress-testing their infrastructures.”

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