The US Department of Justice arrests couple in connection with the 2016 Bitfinex hack and recovers $3.6B in crypto

Years after hackers stole 119,756 Bitcoin (BTC) from the Bitfinex exchange, the US authorities have arrested a couple linked to the crime while also recovering $3.6 billion in Bitcoin.
The US Department of Justice arrests couple in connection with the 2016 Bitfinex hack and recovers $3.6B in crypto

The US Department of Justice announced on Tuesday that Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan had been arrested for allegedly plotting to launder cryptocurrency linked to the 2016 Bitfinex hack.

The 119,756 Bitcoin (BTC) that were worth $72 million when the exchange’s security was compromised in August 2016 are now worth more than $5.1 billion.

About the arrest

Individuals linked to the stolen currencies have periodically moved tiny amounts of BTC in separate transactions since the 2016 heist, leaving the majority of the assets undisturbed.

According to the Department of Justice, 25,000 BTC of these monies were linked to financial accounts held by Lichtenstein and Morgan. After a search order permitted them to inspect files containing the wallet’s secret keys, special agents were able to get access to and seize more than 94,000 BTC — worth $3.6 billion at the time — from Morgan and Lichtenstein.

“Today’s arrests, as well as the department’s largest financial seizure ever, demonstrate that cryptocurrencies is not a safe haven for criminals,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said.

“The defendants laundered stolen monies through a maze of bitcoin transactions in a fruitless attempt to maintain digital anonymity.” Law enforcement once again demonstrated that it can and will pursue the money, no matter what form it takes, thanks to their thorough work.”

Kenneth Polite, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, added that federal authorities might “track money across the blockchain.”

Morgan and Lichtenstein, according to the release, used a variety of tactics to launder illicit crypto, including chain hopping, depositing and withdrawing coins from exchanges and darknet markets, and automating transactions with computer programs. Furthermore, the two allegedly opened company accounts in the United States in order to “legitimize their banking activity.”

The FBI and IRS partnered to track the criminals down

The FBI and the Internal Revenue Service‘s criminal investigation agency’s Cyber Crimes Unit both stated they were working to track down payments from the 2016 attack.

Despite the fact that neither agency explained how authorities were led to Morgan and Lichtenstein in the first place, FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate stated that the agency has “the means to trace the digital trail.”

The efforts of the Department of Justice marked the largest crypto seizure by government officials, with the 2016 Bitfinex breach being one of the largest crypto thefts in history. Lichtenstein and Morgan have been charged with conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Each of them might be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.