The US Justice Department seized $3.6 billion in bitcoin Tuesday that it says is linked to the 2016 hack of the cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex. Authorities also arrested two suspects in Manhattan, a couple both in their 30s, and charged them with conspiracy to launder cryptocurrency stolen during the hack. The total bitcoin taken in the hack is currently valued at $4.5 billion.
“Today’s arrests, and the department’s largest financial seizure ever, show that cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a release.
The suspects “allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds of 119,754 bitcoin that were stolen from Bitfinex’s platform after a hacker breached Bitfinex’s systems and initiated more than 2,000 unauthorized transactions,” the DOJ said, citing court documents.
Authorities were granted a search warrant to examine online accounts controlled by the suspects and obtained private keys to a digital wallet that “directly received the funds stolen from Bitfinex,” the DOJ said. Using the private keys, authorities were able to recover over 94,000 bitcoins, valued at more than $3.6 billion at the time of seizure.
“Today, federal law enforcement demonstrates once again that we can follow money through the blockchain, and that we will not allow cryptocurrency to be a safe haven for money laundering or a zone of lawlessness within our financial system,” Kenneth Polite Jr., assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Criminal Division, said in the release.
about $14 billion transferred to illicit addresses in 2021, according to a January 2022 report from Chainalysis. However, crime accounted for less than 1% of cryptocurrency transactions last year.