Artem Vaulin, the alleged Ukrainian owner of file-sharing website KickassTorrents (KAT), has been arrested by Polish police on U.S. charges of criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit money laundering, prosecutors say.
Vaulin, who is 30, was arrested by local police in Poland on Wednesday, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. The U.S. will seek to extradite Vaulin to the United States to stand trial, it said.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. federal court charges Vaulin with one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two counts of criminal copyright infringement.
The news of the arrest and charges came as Kickass Torrents appeared to be experiencing technical difficulties. It was not immediately clear whether the difficulties were caused by U.S. authorities seizing control of the domains, as no law enforcement message was visible on the site, but most of the website’s domains went offline a few hours after the announcement.
According to Alexa, Kickass Torrents was the world’s most popular torrent website, ranking higher than the well-known website The Pirate Bay, which is now reclaiming its status as the world’s most visited torrent website.
“Vaulin is charged with running today’s most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials,” said Leslie Caldwell of the U.S. Justice Department. “In an effort to evade law enforcement, Vaulin allegedly relied on servers located in countries around the world and moved his domains due to repeated seizures and civil lawsuits.”
According to the criminal complaint, Vaulin, who used the online screen name “tirm”, was involved in designing KAT’s original website and oversaw KAT’s operations. Later on, Vaulin allegedly operated KAT under the auspices of a Ukrainian-based front company called Cryptoneat.
U.S. prosecutors allege that KAT, which operates in 28 languages, has a net worth estimated to be more than $54 million with an estimated annual advertising revenue in the range of $12.5 million to $22.3 million. The website has been forced to change its domain name several times and is blocked in several countries.
If convicted, criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement carry a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. The conspiracy to commit money laundering charge is punishable by up to 20 years.
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