Ilya V. Ponomarev, a deputy of Russia's Duma’s Hi-Tech Development Subcommittee, has leveled shocking charges against a businessman, Pavel Vrublevsky, who served as a top anti-spam advisor to the nation. According to an open letter (PDF, translated) from Ponomarev to Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), Vrublevsky was actually masterminding a spam/scareware scheme, while being paid to prevent it.
Vrublevsky founded ChronoPay, a company that processes online payments. The company has a great deal of legitimate business including lottery tickets and airline tickets. It also deals with "high risk" internet transactions such as payments on online pharmacy, adult, and internet gaming sites.
However, security researcher and journalist Brian Krebs of The Washington Post raised concerns last year when he spotted a large number of payments from spam, malware, and scareware (fake antivirus programs, etc.) being funneled through ChronoPay.
According to the new allegations from Ponomarev, who followed up on Krebs' investigation, Vrublevsky has been leading a double life under the screenname "Redeye". Redeye created Crutop.nu, an adult forum that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission warns is a haven for spammers and a place "where criminals share techniques and strategies with one another."
In the letter Ponomarev elaborates on these dirty dealings, detailing:
They include trade in pornography on the Internet that contains scenes of cruel violence, real rape, zoophilia, etc. (etu-cash.com, cash.pornocruto.es), unlawful banking business focused on laundering of money generated by a range of criminal activities in order to escape taxes using fethard.biz and acceptance of payments for illegal sale of music files mp3 which violates author’s rights of performers and illegal trade in drug-containing and controlled prescribed drastic preparations via on-line chemistry networks (rx-promotion.com, spampromo.com), and illegal mass spam distribution all over the world, as well as sale of malicious software under the guise of anti-virus software.
The kicker, though, is that Vrublevsky works as a government employee as a top official in the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communication, a group tasked with preventing spam. In 2007, the MVD tried to investigated Vrublevsky only to have their investigation fall apart when the chief investigator quit and went work for Vrublevsky.
Ponomarev complains, "We have here a merger between a criminal element and the government power which is unacceptable and inadmissible in any civilized society."
Vrublevsky claims that he is innocent and that Ponomarev was paid off to file the complaint. And he insists he has nothing to do with "Redeye" or Crutop. However, Crutop and ChronoPay share a common Google Analytics code, and for some time the WHOIS domain name record for Crutop was the same as ChronoPay's listed address. And a 2003 Netherlands Chamber of Commerce document (PDF, untranslated) lists Vrublevsky as the registrant of RED & Partners B.V. -- owner of Crutop.
Russia and Eastern Europe have long been shown to be home to some of the world's biggest spamming rings.