Court Tells Asylum Seeker Fear of Retaliation by Homeland Does Not Justify Concealing Funds through Cryptocurrency
Volodymyr Kvashuk, a Ukrainian citizen seeking asylum in the United States, was convicted for defrauding Microsoft of more than $10 million in digital currency. Evidence showed that Mr. Kvashuk used a program to steal gift cards from Microsoft, his then employer, and converted the funds to cryptocurrency. The conviction included multiple counts of fraud, including computer crimes, identity theft, and money laundering. On appeal, Mr. Kvashuk told the court that his actions were motivated by fear rather than fraudulent intent, and that the court’s exclusion of his asylum application undermined his conviction.
For intent-based crimes such as fraud, one’s motivations are as important as one’s actions. Mr. Kvashuk planned to tell jurors he used cryptocurrency to conceal funds not as a means for fraud, but instead to avoid detection by the Ukrainian government during the pendency of his asylum application. Mr. Kvashuk wanted to testify that he feared retaliation by Ukraine and used cryptocurrency to avoid detection by Ukrainian authorities. Yet, the only support for this assertion was an email from Mr. Kvashuk to his tax preparer.
In the email, Mr. Kvashuk claimed that he received the cryptocurrency as a gift from his father for security reasons due to his pending asylum claim. Mr. Kvashuk admitted, however, that he had lied about receiving the cryptocurrency as a gift from his father—the funds had been pilfered from Microsoft. The only portion of the email that was true was the pending asylum claim. So while Mr. Kvashuk wanted to show that his actions were not driven by deception, his only supporting evidence contained deception.
Still, the court entertained the idea that Mr. Kvashuk actions were motivated by fear rather than fraudulent intent, and had allowed him to make an offer proof before trial. But he failed to present proof, leaving the court to conclude that his asylum status had no relevance to his case. Mr. Kvashuk’s after-trial attempt to overturn his conviction based on the court’s exclusion of his asylum status was foreclosed by his own failure. The conviction was upheld and Mr. Kvashuk’s appeal denied.
United States of America v. Volodymyr Kvashuk, No. CR19-0143JLR, 2020 WL 1862594 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 14, 2020).