Record-high seizure of $5bn in stolen Bitcoin

Stolen Bitcoin worth more than $5bn (£3.7bn) has been seized by the US Department of Justice – the largest ever confiscation of its kind.

Officials also arrested and charged two people on Tuesday with attempting to launder the money, which amounts to nearly 120,000 Bitcoin.

The funds, stolen by a hacker who breached a cryptocurrency exchange in 2016, were valued at about $71m.

But, with the rise in Bitcoin’s value, it is now valued at more than $5bn.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr said the seizure was proof the government “will not allow cryptocurrency to be a safe haven for money laundering or a zone of lawlessness within our financial system”.

The money originates from the 2016 hack of a crypto exchange known as Bitfinex.

According to Justice Department officials, a hacker breached the platform, made more than 2,000 unauthorised transactions and then funnelled the money into a digital wallet allegedly run by Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, of New York.

A criminal complaint alleges Lichtenstein and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, laundered about 25,000 of the stolen Bitcoin through various accounts over the past five years and used various methods to cover their tracks, from fake identities to converting their Bitcoin into other digital currencies.

Investigators from Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Ansbach, Germany collaborated on the lengthy probe.

In a statement, Bitfinex said it had cooperated with the inquiry and was “pleased” the stolen funds had been recovered.

Lichtenstein and Morgan will appear before a federal judge later on Tuesday, on counts of conspiracy to defraud the US and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

If found guilty, they could each serve up to 25 years in prison.

The asset seizure comes four months after the launch of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team at the Justice Department.

In what is believed to be its previous largest financial seizure, the team seized some $2.3m in cryptocurrency last year, recovering the ransom paid by the Colonial Pipeline company to end a crippling cyberattack.(BBC)

•PHOTO: Bitcoin