Former police chief Yuri Zaitsev was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for acting as a bounty hunter for a dark web marketplace. In December 2018, Zaitsev was working as the leader of his unit within the Main Directorate for Drugs Control of the Republic of Khakassia — a law enforcement division analogous to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA. At that time, he initiated contact with the operator of a darknet marketplace, offering to help hunt down a man who had appropriated drugs that were entrusted to him for placement in dead drops.
In Russia, unlike the U.S., most dark web entrepreneurs do not trust the post office for shipments. The prevailing mode of dissemination of these illegal products is instead completed through dead drops — a method of delivery by which two parties can pass items or information back and forth without ever needing to meet in person.
According to the Main Investigation Department, the cop received the equivalent of 52,000 rubles in Bitcoin (BTC) for his services. At the time, this was equivalent to approximately $750 U.S. doll, or 0.2 BTC. He was found guilty on charges of bribery and the disclosure of classified information.
According to Zaitsev’s wife, his prosecution was punishment for investigating senior officials within his agency. He was subsequently fired and prosecuted. From October–November 2019, Zaitsev uploaded a number of videos to YouTube in which he allegedly exposed corruption among senior officials in his Directorate. This appears to be what led to criminal charges against him for the disclosure of classified information. In November 2019, Zaitsev uploaded an appeal to President Vladimir Putin on YouTube in which he pleaded his case, but to no avail.
During the unrelated Silk Road investigation, numerous law enforcement officials fell afoul to what they perceived as easy, untraceable Bitcoin. DEA Special Agent Carl Force managed to elicit 1,200 Bitcoin from Ross Ulbricht. He obtained the funds using an elaborate scheme in which he created multiple fake personas ranging from a major South American drug trafficker to a corrupt law enforcement official. One of the tasks assigned to him by Ulbricht was hunting down and murdering a former associate who had allegedly stolen Bitcoin from him. The actual thief was another law enforcement official involved in the investigation. The murder was staged by Force but never materialized in actuality.
The events that took place in Khakasia a few years after the Silk Road saga seem in some ways like a cheap local knockoff of an expensive HBO show. As Karl Marx once said, history repeats itself “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”