US Justice Department seizes $3.6bn of bitcoin

The US Justice Department said that it has seized $3.6 billion in stolen bitcoin, linked to the 2016 hack of the Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange.

The department seized 94,000 bitcoins from a New York couple, Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan, arresting them for alleged conspiracy.

The stolen currency from the Hong Kong-based exchange was estimated at being worth $72 million at the prices of the time and would be currently valued at $4.5 billion.

The Manhattan-based couple were scheduled to make their initial appearances in federal court yesterday.

The news comes after a year filled with prominent cryptocurrency exchange hacks.

In August 2021, hackers stole $600 million in cryptocurrency from decentralised finance provider (DeFi) Poly Network.

Cryptocurrency-based crime hit a new all-time high in 2021, according to a report by blockchain data platform Chainalysis.

“Cryptocurrency and the virtual currency exchanges trading in it comprise an expanding part of the U.S. financial system, but digital currency heists executed through complex money laundering schemes could undermine confidence in cryptocurrency,” said US attorney Matthew Graves for the District of Columbia. “The Department of Justice and our office stand ready to confront these threats by using 21st century investigative techniques to recover the stolen funds and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Acting executive associate director Steve Francis of Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) said: “With a hack of this magnitude, public and private sector collaboration is crucial to ensure continued consumer confidence in our financial system.

“Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan attempted to subvert legitimate commerce for their own nefarious purposes, operating with perceived anonymity.

He added: “Today’s action demonstrates HSI’s commitment and ability to work with a collation of the willing to unravel these technical fraud schemes and identify the perpetrators, regardless of where they operate.”

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