The alleged boss of the world's biggest online piracy site, Kickass Torrents, was hit with US criminal charges, accused of distributing over $1 billion worth of illegally copied films, music and other content.
The Justice Department unveiled a criminal complaint on Wednesday against Ukrainian national Artem Vaulin, 30, who was arrested in Poland and is wanted by the US for copyright infringement, money laundering and other charges.
Vaulin is alleged to own Kickass Torrents or KAT, which in recent years has eclipsed Pirate Bay and others to become the world's biggest source of pirated media.
The US criminal complaint said the website offers "a sophisticated and user-friendly environment in which its users are able to search for and locate content" which is protected by copyright.
KAT, which distributes films, video games, television programs, music and other electronic media, is estimated to be the 69th most frequently visited website on the internet, according to a Justice Department statement.
"Vaulin is charged with running today's most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over USD 1 billion of copyrighted materials," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.
"In an effort to evade law enforcement, Vaulin allegedly relied on servers located in countries around the world and moved his domains due to repeated seizures and civil lawsuits.
"His arrest in Poland, however, demonstrates again that cybercriminals can run, but they cannot hide from justice."
Polish border guard spokeswoman Agnieszka Golias said on Thursday that Vaulin was arrested at Warsaw's Chopin airport yesterday "during an attempt to enter Poland".
US officials will seek to extradite Vaulin to face charges filed in a federal court in Chicago, which ordered the seizure of one bank account and seven domain names associated with the file-sharing website.
The complaint said officials were able to track and identify Vaulin from records provided by Apple on his iCloud account.
According to the complaint, KAT operates in 28 languages and has made available movies that were still in theaters along with other content, earning revenue from advertising throughout its site.
The website's value is estimated at more than USD 54 million, with annual advertising revenue in the range of USD 12.5 million to USD 22.3 million, according to the complaint.
KAT has moved its domains several times after being blocked in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Belgium and Malaysia, according to the complaint, and has relied on a network of computer servers located around the world, including in Chicago.