Yat co-founder and former Monero maintainer arrested in U.S., faces extradition for fraud allegations

Riccardo Spagni, a former maintainer for the Monero privacy coin project and a co-founder of the emoji username project Yat, is being held by U.S. authorities and faces extradition to South Africa in connection with allegations of fraud.

Court documents filed July 21 allege that Spagni committed invoice payment fraud during his time working as an IT manager for a South Africa-based cookie company, Cape Cookies. "The evidence indicating that SPAGNI engaged in these frauds consists of witness statements and bank records. This evidence indicates that SPAGNI received 1,453,561.47 South African Rand, or roughly $99,185, as a result of his efforts to defraud Cape Cookies," the documents state. 

The court filing goes on to note:

"SPAGNI was charged in the Western Cape Regional Court, Cape Town for fraud and other charges arising out of these facts. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the trial against him was commenced. Evidence was presented against him, but SPAGNI failed to appear in court. South African authorities attempted to locate SPAGNI at his home address and through contacts with his friends and family, but to no avail. Further investigation revealed that SPAGNI had fled South Africa. The trial court issued a warrant for his arrest on April 19, 2021."

Spagni is currently being held by the U.S. Marshals Service. In the court documents, officials requested that he be held in detention following his arrest on July 21, declaring him a flight risk. He was arrested in Nashville en route to Los Cabos, Mexico, during a refueling stop. 

The South African Police Service issued a public notice on April 30. Per the notice, Spagni "failed to appear twice for his court appearance and all efforts by the investigating officer to establish the whereabouts of the accused were futile."

Cointelegraph first reported the news.

In a July 31 response to the government's filing, Spagni's legal representatives said that the U.S. government "has misstated both the facts and the applicable law in this matter."

"Throughout the decade that South Africa has investigated, charged, dismissed, re-investigated, and re-charged a fatally flawed case against him, Spagni regularly and routinely appeared in South African court and communicated with authorities there regarding both his case and other legal matters upon which South Africa enlisted his assistance," the July 31 filing states. 

In a message shared on Twitter through his spouse, Spagni said:

"Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding with regards to the setting of court dates in an old matter, which I have continuously been trying to resolve since 2011, I have been held in contempt of court and currently awaiting extradition. I am hoping to resolve this misunderstanding within a short while. In the meantime my business affairs will continue under the leadership of my partners."

According to an August 2 court order, a hearing on Spagni's pre-trial detention will be held on August 5.