U.S. Charges Three British Nationals for ‘Evolved Apes’ NFT Scam

The men could face up to 20 years in prison for each of their charges.

An image of an Evolved Apes character representing Mohamed-Amin Atcha is pictured on the Internet Archive record of the now-deleted webpage. Photo courtesy of EvolvedApes.com/Internet Archive.

U.S. federal prosecutors have charged three British nationals with conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering for their involvement in a scam to sell non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, of digital artworks known as “Evolved Apes.”

Mohamed-Amin Atcha, Mohamed Rilaz Waleedh, and Daood Hassan allegedly drove up prices for the NFTs with false promises to develop a video game based on the characters. Prosecutors said that thousands of people were duped into buying the NFTs.

“They allegedly took investor funds, never developed the game, and pocketed the proceeds,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “Digital art may be new, but old rules still apply: making false promises for money is illegal.”

In an unsealed indictment, prosecutors alleged that the “rug pull” scam took place from March to September 2021 as the three men, each 23 years old, advertised the development of a fighting game on a website that has since been deleted.

“The website expressly tied gameplay to the value of the NFTs,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment, explaining that the three men promised daily prize tournaments in which the NFTs of certain characters would increase in value depending on how many fights they win.

The alleged scammers made at least $2 million from their scheme just one day after the first sales of the NFTs on September 24, 2021. The website was shut down on October 5 of that year.

A cryptocurrency platform used by the alleged scammers quickly blocked Waleedh from withdrawing his “cut,” prosecutors said. Waleedh allegedly called customer service and falsely claimed he needed the cash to pay for his grandmother’s cancer treatment. By that December, certain assets of Hassan were frozen by the government.

Atcha, Waleedh and Hassan face up to 20 years in jail on each charge if convicted.

Evolved Apes is not to be confused with the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a similar project selling NFTs of 10,000 cartoon anthropomorphized apes. Though Atcha, Waleedh and Hassan began development of their project in March 2023, a month before Bored Apes were released, Evolved Apes were seemingly launched later in the year.

Bored Apes, developed by Yuga Lubs, had huge success and caused the company to be valued at $4 billion in 2022.

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