The US Department of Justice announced the seizure of $ 3.6 billion in cryptocurrency, which was stolen in 2016 by Russian Ilya Lichtenstein. All these years, he and his wife Heather Morgan have been laundering bitcoins stolen from the Bitfinex exchange, but they left too many traces that brought cybercrime agents to them.
In the United States, 34-year-old Russian Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife, 31-year-old American Heather Morgan, were arrested. The couple is accused of conspiring to launder cryptocurrencies that were stolen in the 2016 Bitfinex hack. Information about this case is published on the website of the US Department of Justice.
According to Bloomberg, the couple were released on bail: Liechtenstein was released for $5 million, and his wife for $3 million. According to the agency, the authorities asked the court not to set bail, as the spouses could hide – they face a 20-year sentence.
In 2016, a Russian hacked the Bitfinex exchange and stole 119,754 bitcoins through 2,000 unauthorized cryptocurrency transactions. The stolen money was withdrawn by him to a digital wallet. Over the past five years, Liechtenstein and his wife have been laundering stolen funds, during which time 25,000 bitcoins were transferred to financial accounts. The total amount of stolen funds is estimated at $4.5 billion. According to the Ministry of Justice, $3.6 billion worth of cryptocurrency was seized from the suspects.
On charges of money laundering, Liechtenstein and Morgan face up to 20 years in prison. They can get up to five more years on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States. The couple appeared in court for the first time on Tuesday.
As Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco notes, this case suggests that American law enforcement agencies have the ability to monitor all the money in the country, regardless of their form. Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polight said that cryptocurrencies will not become a haven for money laundering and a zone of lawlessness. His comment lead Vedomosti.
A spokesman for the Cybercrime Unit of the IRS said this was the largest seizure of cryptocurrencies. The money laundering technique used by the defendants was able to uncover special agents of the cybercrime department. It is reported that Liechtenstein and Morgan used complex schemes to launder cryptocurrencies with the creation of non-existent identities, the use of exchanges and the dark web, the conversion of bitcoins into other cryptocurrencies and other means. The arsenal of tools they used included software for automating transactions, with the help of which the attackers carried out many financial transactions in a short time. Despite the complexity of the money laundering operations, cybercrime specialists were still able to trace the individuals behind these operations.
To date, the cost of one bitcoin exceeds 43 thousand dollars. In 2016, when Liechtenstein carried out the theft of the cryptocurrency, the minimum price of bitcoin was only $370, and the maximum did not exceed $980. At the time of the theft, the bitcoins were worth about $65 million.
Bitfinex representatives expressed gratitude to the US Department of Justice for investigating this case, which led to the capture of scammers. Representatives of the exchange said that 80 percent of the refunded amount will be used to buy back and burn UNUS SED LEO tokens. This is planned to be implemented within 18 months after receipt of compensation.
Millions and Billions
The scam, which Liechtenstein and Morgan carried out, although not very successfully, is far from the only case of major hacking of cryptocurrency platforms. In August 2021, a successful attack on the Poly Network was reported. More than $600 million worth of cryptocurrencies were in the hands of the hackers. A few days after the hack, the hackers returned more than half of the stolen funds ($368 million), while they still had $268 million in Ethereum cryptocurrency. Later it became known that all funds were returned. It is noteworthy that the attackers began to return the cryptocurrency after the platform addressed them with an open letter.
In April 2021, when bitcoin was hitting records, Africrypt platform employees lost control of the accounts. The story became public, despite the request of the representatives of the platform to investors not to report the incident to law enforcement agencies. The damage from the actions of hackers is estimated at 3.6 billion dollars.
In October 2021, it was reported that in the third quarter alone, hackers stole more than $1 billion worth of cryptocurrencies. The Ethereum network, which suffered 20 attacks, suffered the most during the specified period. In three months, cybercriminals carried out 69 attacks and withdrew $1.138 billion in cryptocurrencies. The largest hack during this period was the attack on the Poly Network mentioned above.
Cryptocurrency exchanges lost $114 million during this period as a result of five attacks. The Japanese exchange Liquid was the hardest hit – in this case, $90 million in cryptocurrency became the booty of hackers. In total, in the first three quarters of 2021, cybercriminals carried out 146 attacks to steal cryptocurrencies, which is 20 percent more than in the whole of 2020.