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US seizes $3.6 billion in stolen cryptocurrency

February 9, 2022

The US Justice Department announced its "largest financial seizure ever" and the arrest of a New York couple for allegedly laundering money stolen through a 2016 hacking.

Smybols of a number of popular cryptocurrencies
The bitcoin stolen in 2016 was worth $71 million — and is now worth $4.5 billionImage: Daniel Kalker/dpa/picture alliance

The United States Justice Department said on Tuesday that authorities seized more than $3.6 billion (€3.2 billion) and arrested a New York couple accused of conspiring to launder billions in cryptocurrency

Federal law enforcement officials said the recovered sum was linked to the hack of the Bitfinex virtual currency exchange in 2016. This was the department's largest seizure to date.

The two suspects were arrested in Manhattan on Tuesday morning. They are accused of using sophisticated techniques to launder the stolen money and conceal the transactions.

The couple is scheduled to make their initial appearances in federal court later on Tuesday.

What charges are the pair facing?

They face federal charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

"Today's arrests, and the department's largest financial seizure ever, show that cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. 

"In a futile effort to maintain digital anonymity, the defendants laundered stolen funds through a labyrinth of cryptocurrency transactions," she added.

How was the sum retrieved?

In the 2016 hack, about $71 million in stolen bitcoin was transferred to an outside digital wallet, officials said. The stolen bitcoin is valued today at more than $4.5 billion (€3.9 billion).

Investigators located a wallet containing more than 2,000 bitcoin accounts and followed the trail to accounts at a dark web marketplace called AlphaBay. The marketplace was dismantled by the Justice Department in 2017.

Authorities said they obtained access to files within an online account controlled by the suspect, which contained the private keys to the wallet that was used to receive and store bitcoin stolen in the 2016 Bitfinex hack.

The keys allowed agents to lawfully seize and recover more than 94,00 bitcoin, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Millions of dollars were cashed out through bitcoin ATMs and used to purchase gold, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and Walmart gift cards, prosecutors said.

sdi/fb (AP, Reuters)

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