The US Department of Justice has recovered stolen Bitcoin worth more than $4 billion (£2.9 billion), the highest such seizure ever. On Tuesday, officials accused two persons of intending to smuggle money taken in 2016 by a hacker who penetrated a cryptocurrency website. The hacker is said to have made off with around 120,000 Bitcoin. It was formerly valued at around $71 million, but now it is worth more than $5 billion.
A total of 94,000 bitcoins were retrieved. The confiscation was proof that the government “will not allow cryptocurrencies to be a safe harbor for financial fraud or a zone of anarchy within our financial system,” according to Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr.
The funds come from the 2016 breach of Bitfinex, a cryptocurrency exchange. A hacker reportedly entered the site, conducted over 2,000 unauthorized transactions, and then sent the money into a digital wallet purportedly operated by Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, of New York, according to Justice Department authorities.
According to the criminal complaint, Lichtenstein and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, laundered over 25,000 Bitcoin across several accounts over the last five years and utilized various tactics to hide their traces, including creating fictitious identities and changing Bitcoin into other digital currencies. The protracted investigation involved investigators from Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, and Ansbach, Germany.
Bitfinex stated in a statement that it had cooperated with the investigation and was “pleased” that the funds had been retrieved. Later on Tuesday, Lichtenstein and Morgan will appear in front of a federal court on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to launder money. They may face up to 25 years in jail if proven guilty.
The asset seizure comes four months after the Justice Department established a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team. Last year, the team recovered $2.3 million in bitcoin in what is thought to be its previous highest financial seizure, retrieving the ransom paid by the Colonial Pipeline firm to terminate a debilitating breach.