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A seizure of Bitcoin worth billions of dollars is being hailed as the largest-ever such confiscation

Author: Syedur Rahman  10 February 2022

Stolen Bitcoin valued at more than $3.6 billion has been confiscated by the United States’ Department of Justice (DOJ) in what is claimed to be the biggest seizure of its kind.

The DOJ’s newly-created National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET) carried out the raid, which saw a husband and wife arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the US.

The DOJ has said the man and woman were conspiring to move 119,754 Bitcoin – with a current value of more than $4 billion – that had been stolen during a hack of the Hong Kong-based crypto-trading platform Bitfinex six years ago. At present, $0.4 billion of the $4 billion remains unaccounted for.

The seizure is an early success for the NCET. The creation of the NCET represents a pooling of the DOJ’s cryptocurrency talent. The fact that such expertise has been carefully selected and put into one team with one specific aim is an indicator of just how seriously the US government is taking the retrieval of illicit or stolen cryptocurrencies.

If there was any doubt about just how high a priority cryptocurrency-related crime was for the US authorities, the creation of the NCET was proof that it has come to be viewed as very important. Such a high-profile and large-scale seizure as this is an early feather in the cap of the NCET.

The outcome of the prosecution of the two individuals charged in this operation is obviously still some way from being concluded. But the case does suggest that the DOJ appears to be focusing its efforts on cryptocurrency exchanges. The NCET’s efforts to identify and target abuse on cryptocurrency platforms may go some way to maintaining – and even improving - user confidence in such assets.

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Syedur Rahman is known for his in-depth experience of serious fraud, white-collar crime and serious crime cases, as well as his expertise in worldwide asset tracing and recovery, civil recovery, cryptocurrency and high-stakes commercial disputes.

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