Russian authorities have arrested a group of several dozen individuals who allegedly sold more than 1 billion counterfeit rubles (roughly $13.6 million in nominal value) for crypto assets over the dark web.

The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs has described the scale and scope of the operation as unprecedented.

Russian police bust counterfeit cash ring

Kommersant reported on April 7 that the group was operating on the anonymous free market Hydra under the title of “Bank of Russia” — the name of Russia’s central bank. The group was active for approximately one year.

Small batches of between 10,000 ($136) and 150,000 ($2,400) fake roubles were sold for 30 cents on the dollar, while bulk orders of 500,000 ($6,800) or more were priced at between 10% and 15% of their nominal value. 

Buyers would make payments using an anonymous wallet and exclusively with cryptocurrencies, Kommersant reports. The bills would then be delivered to various hiding places for collection.

The criminal group comprised several dozen individuals and was highly decentralized — with nearly all of the accused knowing nothing of each other except their online pseudonyms and spanning dozens of Russian regions.

Counterfeit rubles identified in nearly all Russian regions

The report asserts that police were able to establish the identities of the group’s three alleged masterminds in spring — Oleg Efimov, Ivan Aferov and Andrei Skvortsov.

Upon their arrest, Russian police seized two sets of counterfeit note printers, color laser printers, laptops, mock-ups of banknotes, a laminator, and threads for gluing emblems into bills. 

Authorities reportedly noted that the vendor’s counterfeit bills were of high quality. The counterfeit rubles have been identified across nearly every Russian region, having first been spotted in the Republic of Tatarstan in 2019.

The group is believed to have carried out more than 3,000 transactions over Hydra.

In December 2019, Europol executed simultaneous raids across seven countries to take down what authorities described as the second-largest currency counterfeiter on the dark web. 

The organization had sold more than 26,000 banknotes with a nominal value of $1.4 million.