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Virtual gifts turn dirty: Livestreamers launder millions in first-of-its-kind case

By Xu Zhesheng | | Updated: 2024-02-26 23:51
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Authorities in Shanghai have charged four livestreamers with money laundering, marking the first such case involving online platform rewards in China, according to the Shanghai Pudong People's Procuratorate.

The case stemmed from a broader investigation into a fundraising fraud exceeding 1.2 billion yuan ($167 million) orchestrated by a suspect surnamed Yu.

The investigation revealed a pattern of Yu, disguised online as "Big Brother," showering a prominent livestreamer surnamed Li, with unusually large virtual gifts and rewards on a popular platform. These rewards, despite platform fees, were soon returned to Yu, raising suspicion.

Further investigation connected Yu to three other livestreamers identified with their surnames — Wang, Jia, and Fang — who also received substantial and frequent rewards from Yu.

Authorities allege that Li and the other livestreamers, over a period of two years, became aware of Yu's illegal fundraising activities yet continued to accept illicit funds disguised as rewards, exceeding 50 million yuan in total. They then allegedly laundered the funds through cash withdrawals and transfers.

The Pudong procuratorate, after a lengthy investigation, established a case against the four livestreamers based on their knowledge of the illegal origins of the funds and the documented financial transactions.

This case highlights the emerging challenge of online platforms being used for money laundering through virtual rewards. In response, the procuratorate urged the livestreaming platform to implement stricter measures, including prohibiting the return of rewards and enforcing real-name authentication for high-value and frequent reward transactions.

The platform has reportedly agreed to comply with these recommendations.

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