GeneralBusiness & Finance

The South African crypto mogul Riccardo “fluffypony” Spagni faces 378 fraud and forgery charges

South African crypto mogul and former Monero maintainer Riccardo “fluffypony” Spagni faces 378 charges of fraud, forgery, and uttering in a case involving his former employer, Cape Cookies. Spagni worked for Cape Cookies from 1 October 2009 to 8 June 2011 and is accused of defrauding the company of R1,453,561.47. According to the charges, he allegedly intercepted and fabricated invoices between Cape Cookies and IT supplier Ensync.

He allegedly inflated the invoices and placed his own company’s bank account details and VAT number on them. The allegations state that he would settle Ensync’s actual invoices and pocket the difference. Spagni has maintained that he is innocent, has pleaded not guilty, and is defending the matter in the Cape Town regional court. Known in cryptocurrency circles as “fluffypony”, Spagni was the lead maintainer of the privacy-focused Monero cryptocurrency for five years. He stepped down in December 2019 and resigned from the Monero Core Team in November 2023, saying this was in line with his stated goals since 2018. 

Spagni has been advocating for greater decentralisation of the project. “It is my hope that my remaining privileges and access can be handed over to new workgroups in the coming weeks and months, instead of the Core Team continuing in a highly centralised model,” he said. The criminal case against Spagni took a turn in August 2021 when he was arrested as a fugitive in Nashville, Tennessee, for allegedly failing to appear in court. Spagni was on his way to a cryptocurrency event in Los Cabos, Mexico. The private jet he was flying on from New York City stopped to refuel when US law enforcement arrested him on a warrant obtained by the South African government. He was extradited to South Africa, where he was arrested and jailed on arrival. Initially, he was held at Cape Town Central police station, but he was transferred to Pollsmoor maximum security prison because the police cells did not have the medical facilities he might need. During his extradition, Spagni argued that he should be released pending his hearing because he had several comorbidities for Covid-19, including asthma. Spagni secured his release from Pollsmoor and has been defending his case since. He also launched an application to have the arrest warrant reviewed and set aside. Spagni said he was never properly resummonsed to appear in court following postponements due to the national lockdown imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this application was never heard on its merits. 

The Supreme Court of Appeal ultimately ruled that it was irrelevant whether the warrant was invalid and unconstitutional, as Spagni was back in the country. Acting Justice Gloria Nozuko Mjali reiterated a 2003 ruling, which stated that South African courts adhered to a fundamental principle — they would not make determinations that would have no practical effect. MyBroadband contacted Spagni for comment, but he did not provide feedback by publication. 

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