Author: Syedur Rahman
28 June 2021
2 min read
The Metropolitan Police was predictably happy to announce that it has seized £114 million of Bitcoin as part of an investigation into money laundering offences. It was the largest seizure of crypto ever in the UK – and one of the biggest in the world.
In 2020, US authorities said they had seized Bitcoin worth around $1 billion (£718 million) as part of investigations into the darknet market place the Silk Road, which had been shut down seven years earlier.
While the Met’s seizure is nowhere near the scale of that US operation, the sum involved is more than double the amount of cash seized last year. And it should be noted that if the seizure had been carried out two months ago - when Bitcoin was at a peak value of more than £47,000 rather than the current level of around £25,000 – the value of what was taken could have been talked about as being much higher than £114 million. But whatever value is put on what was confiscated, the seizure can be viewed as a strong sign that the authorities in the UK are not only alert to crypto’s use by criminals – they are also fully aware of how to trace it and take it.
The fact that such a large amount of cryptocurrency was seized as part of a money laundering investigation emphasises its attraction to criminals. The anonymity cryptocurrencies offer to those sending and receiving them can bring obvious benefits to those looking to commit wrongdoing and distribute the proceeds in a way that avoids detection.
Police in the UK and beyond have made no secret of their concerns that criminal gangs are turning to cryptocurrency to ensure the proceeds of their crimes go untraced. Cash is king, according to many involved in crime. But the Met’s raid shows that many criminals have embraced crypto. It also shows, however, that law enforcement is aware of this and is doing all it can to play catch-up and tackle the problem.
Playing catch-up in relation to cryptocurrency may be something that the authorities find themselves doing repeatedly in the future. This is not a criticism of their slowness to react, it is more a reflection of the fast-paced, swiftly-changing nature of cryptocurrency. As cryptoassets develop and change, the people who use them and the purposes for which they are used may also change. The challenge for law enforcement is to ensure they stay up to speed with how crypto is used by those looking to commit crime and use the powers at their disposal to target them and their assets.
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, international arbitration, civil recovery, cryptocurrency and high-stakes commercial disputes.