The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced the seizure of 94,636 bitcoins directly linked to the 2016 hack of the cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex. This is the DOJ’s “largest cryptocurrency seizure to date.” In addition, two people have been arrested in connection with the hack and stolen cryptocurrency.
Bitfinex Hack’s Stolen Bitcoins Seized, 2 People Arrested
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday that the U.S. government has seized stolen cryptocurrency directly linked to the 2016 hack of the cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex.
According to the announcement, this is the DOJ’s “largest cryptocurrency seizure to date, valued at more than $3.6 billion” at the time of the seizure. At the time of writing, the value of the BTC seized is more than $4 billion. The Department of Justice wrote:
Thus far, law enforcement has seized over $3.6 billion in cryptocurrency linked to that hack.
In addition, two people — Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31 — have been arrested for “alleged conspiracy to launder $4.5 billion in stolen cryptocurrency” from the Bitfinex hack. Specifically, court documents show that they “allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds of 119,754 bitcoin” that were stolen from the cryptocurrency exchange.
In the 2016 Bitfinex hack, stolen bitcoins were transferred in more than 2,000 transactions to a crypto wallet controlled by Lichtenstein. Over the last five years, approximately 25,000 stolen BTC were transferred out of his crypto wallet “via a complicated money laundering process,” the DOJ noted, adding that some of the stolen funds were deposited into financial accounts controlled by Lichtenstein and Morgan.
The remainder of the stolen funds, comprising approximately 94,636 bitcoins, remained in the wallet, the Justice Department further explained.
“After the execution of court-authorized search warrants of online accounts controlled by Lichtenstein and Morgan, special agents obtained access to files within an online account controlled by Lichtenstein,” the DOJ detailed, elaborating:
Those files contained the private keys required to access the digital wallet that directly received the funds stolen from Bitfinex, and allowed special agents to lawfully seize and recover more than 94,000 bitcoin that had been stolen from Bitfinex.
FBI Deputy Director Paul M. Abbate opined: “Today’s case is a reminder that the FBI has the tools to follow the digital trail, wherever it may lead.”
Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco commented:
Today’s arrests, and the department’s largest financial seizure ever, show that cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals.
Lichtenstein and Morgan used “numerous sophisticated laundering techniques,” the complaint describes. The techniques included using fictitious identities to set up online accounts, using computer programs to automate transactions, depositing stolen funds into accounts at various cryptocurrency exchanges and darknet markets, and leveraging “anonymity-enhanced virtual currency (AEC), in a practice known as ‘chain hopping.’”
“Lichtenstein and Morgan are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and conspiracy to defraud the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison,” the Justice Department concluded.
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