The $2.3 Billion Tornado Cash Case Is a Pivotal Moment for Crypto Privacy

In the conclusion of that same statement to the court, they point out that under Dutch law the maximum prison sentence for money laundering at the scale Pertsev allegedly committed is eight years, and they ask that Pertsev be sentenced to five years and four months if he’s found guilty.

The Tornado Rolls On

Cryptocurrency advocates focused on privacy and civil liberties will be closely watching the outcome of Pertsev’s case, which many see as a bellwether for how Western law enforcement and regulators will draw the line between financial privacy and money laundering—including in some immediate cases to follow.

The US trial of Tornado Cash’s Storm in a New York court later this year, as well as the US indictment last month of the founders of Samourai Wallet, which prosecutors say offered similar privacy properties to Tornado Cash’s, are more likely to directly set precedents in US law. But Pertsev’s case may suggest the direction those cases will take, says Alex Gladstein, the chief strategy officer for the Human Rights Foundation and an advocate of bitcoin’s use as a human rights tool.

“What happens in the Netherlands will color the New York case, and the Tornado Cash cases are really going to color the outcome of the Samourai case,” Gladstein says. “These cases are going to be historic in the precedents they set.”

Gladstein, like many crypto privacy supporters, argues that anyone weighing the value of tools like Tornado Cash should look beyond its use by hackers to countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and India, where activists and dissidents need to hide their financial transactions from repressive governments. “For human rights activists, it’s essential that they have money the government can’t surveil,” Gladstein says.

Regardless of the verdict in Pertsev’s case or that of his cofounder Roman Storm in the fall, Tornado Cash’s founder’s core argument—that Tornado Cash’s underlying infrastructure has always been out of their hands—has proven to be correct: Tornado Cash lives on.

True to its promise of decentralization, Tornado Cash still persists after its cofounders indictment in the fall of last year—and is now out of their control. In March, $283 million flowed into the service.

Courtesy of Chainalysis

When the tool’s centralized web-based interface went offline last year in the wake of US sanctions and the two cofounders’ arrests—Roman Semenov, for now, remains free—Tornado Cash transactions dropped by close to 90 percent, according to Chainalysis. But Tornado Cash has remained online, still functioning as a decentralized smart contract. In recent months, Chainalysis has seen its use tick up again intermittently. More than $283 million flowed into the service just in March.

In other words, whether it represents a public utility for financial privacy and freedom or an uncontrollable money laundering machine, its creators’ claim has borne out: Tornado Cash remains beyond their control—or anyone’s.