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A hacker who took $9 million from a decentralized crypto exchange was arrested on Tuesday. Photo illustration by Fortune; original photos by Getty Images

A 34-year-old who allegedly stole millions of dollars from a decentralized crypto exchange last year turned to the web for advice as he pondered whether to buy another citizenship and flee the U.S. with his ill-gotten gains.

Shakeeb Ahmed worked as a senior security engineer at a tech company at the time of the heist, and he used his sophisticated technical knowledge to swindle millions of dollars, a DOJ statement alleges.

Using computer code, Ahmed manipulated the exchange’s liquidity pools, which usually pay fees to users based on how much crypto they deposit, and tricked the protocol into paying him $9 million for crypto that he did not deposit.

Following the exploit, the hacker sent multiple messages to the exchange and decided to return all but $1.5 million of the illicit funds. He also sent the exchange details about the vulnerabilities in its code so it could prevent future attacks, on the condition that the exchange not refer the hack to law enforcement. Crypto journalist Molly White noted that the exchange was Crema Finance, which was hacked in July 2022.

In August, just a month after sending back most of the cryptocurrency, Ahmed searched for “wire fraud” and “how to prove malicious intent.” Days later, he searched for the term “evidence laundering,” according to the indictment.

From August until the end of last year, according to the DOJ, Ahmed also searched for answers on the legality of crossing the border with crypto and preventing the federal government from seizing assets. In October, he set his sights on fleeing the U.S. and searched for “buying citizenship,” stumbling on an article headlined “16 Countries Where Your Investments Can Buy Citizenship.”

Ahmed was arrested on Tuesday in New York City and charged with wire fraud and money laundering, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.


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