Earlier today, Jan. 17, the blockchain analysts identified Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB), Hamas’s military arm and noted terrorist organization, as the first confirmed case of terrorists using cryptocurrency to aid their activity. AQB used a website to generate a new Bitcoin address for each donor to deposit funds. It included a how-to video on donating with maximal anonymity.
Compared to similar earlier campaigns, AQB raised as much money and garnered more donors but in less than half the time. Cryptocurrency has been linked to crime before, including Ponzi schemes and hate crimes. In other recent research, Chainalysis tracked $2.8 billion in Bitcoin from criminal enterprises to exchanges. Over 50% — $1.4 billion in Bitcoin — moved through major exchanges Binance and Huobi.
Crypto-enabled crime has caught the attention of regulators and government officials who would like greater oversight of digital currencies. Last year, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, speaking at a gathering of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), applauded global regulatory standards that would combat crypto crimes:
“The FATF will make sure that virtual asset service providers do not operate in the dark shadows […] This will enable the emerging FinTech sector to stay one-step ahead of rogue regimes and sympathizers of illicit causes…”
The FATF, whose 200 countries, including the U.S., promote measures to combat financial crime, now demand that exchanges know more about customers and transactions. More data will hopefully help identify money laundering and terrorism financing in exchange for institutions that largely lack the oversight needed to combat this growing problem. In a statement to Chainalysis, Binance CCO Samuel Lin said,
“Binance is committed to cleaning up financial crime in crypto and improving the health of our industry. We will continue to improve on our proprietary KYC and AML technology, as well as the third-party tools […] One of our core values at Binance is to protect our users…”
Binance, one of the largest crypto exchanges, exceeded $1 billion in profits last fall.
Finnish Customs No Sure What To Do with 15M Euro Seized in Bitcoin
While some governments are selling bitcoins (BTC) confiscated through law enforcement actions, Finland is yet to decide what to do with its seized BTC. Finnish Customs, operating under the Ministry of Finance, has reportedly been deliberating about what to do with 1,666 bitcoins seized from drug criminals years ago. As reported by Finland’s national public broadcasting firm on Feb. 25, the Finnish Customs service doesn’t want to auction the confiscated Bitcoin because the cryptocurrency could be returned to the hands of criminals.
According to the report, at the time of the seizure the amount of confiscated Bitcoin was worth less than 700,000 euros, or roughly $760,000. As of press time, 1,666 BTC is worth nearly 15 million euros — or more than $15.5 million, according to data from Coin360. The authority was reportedly initially planning to auction the funds back in 2018, but eventually ended up with hodling the crypto, citing Anti-Money Laundering (AML) concerns. Pekka Pylkkänen, head of finance at the Finnish Customs service, said that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are primarily used for illicit practices:
“From our point of view, the problems are specifically related to the risk of money laundering. The buyers of cybercurrency rarely use them for normal endeavours.”
Apart from holding over $15 million in Bitcoin, Finnish Customs also holds a number of seized altcoins worth of millions of euros, the report notes.
Whatever the reason behind Finnish Customs’ decision to hodl the confiscated crypto, the authority is apparently not alone in thinking that Bitcoin and other cryptos might be more dangerous than cash in terms of money laundering. In July 2019, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced an extremely sceptical opinion of Bitcoin, arguing that cash is not laundered in the same way as Bitcoin. Meanwhile, other countries over the world do not appear so concerned about taking profits from hodling Bitcoin.
On Feb. 18, the United States Marshals Service sold another batch of Bitcoin confiscated during its enforcement operations. According to data compiled by well-known crypto industry figure Jameson Lopp, the U.S. Marshals has missed out on over $1.7 billion by selling seized Bitcoin too early. The agency has confiscated and sold 185,230 bitcoins, according to Lopp’s data.
‘I Think XRP Is a Scam’ Says Ben Askren Former UFC Star And Bitcoin Advocate
As regulatory concerns over XRP — the world’s third-biggest crypto asset — have intensified, some celebrities are stepping in to voice more FUD about the coin. Ben Askren, former UFC fighter and known Bitcoin (BTC) bull, has driven more scepticism toward XRP with a short tweet on Jan. 28: “I think XRP is a scam.”
Askren’s latest cryptocurrency verdict builds on a background of previous endorsements of other cryptocurrencies. The famous former Olympic wrestler is not only bullish on Bitcoin, but also supports Charlie Lee-founded Litecoin (LTC), the seventh biggest cryptocurrency by market cap as of press time. In January 2019, Askren was purportedly sponsored by the Litecoin Foundation as the mixed martial arts fighter for UFC 235 event. Subsequently, the UFC fighter appeared on his Instagram wearing a Litecoin-branded t-shirt. The celebrity has also promoted Bitcoin on his Twitter in October 2019:
“Just bought more BTC using @eToro was really easy, now all of you twitter geniuses can tell me Crypto is a scam while my assets go up!”
As Askren has been known as a shill for BTC and LTC for a while, a user on Twitter asked him a question: “The fact @Benaskren is staying quiet on XRP tells me its going to take it a long time if ever to moon.” Askren’s verdict didn’t take long, and a part of the crypto community on Twitter expressed some negative stance toward XRP, while the tweet has amassed over 2,000 likes as of press time.
Askren’s statement about XRP comes amid an already worsened situation around the coin as XRP dropped over 40% from $0.364 in 2019 to $0.183 in December, marking a two-year low. The situation has been exacerbated by rising concerns over the unclear regulatory status of XRP’s issuing company, Ripple, which faces a class-action lawsuit alleging that it held an unregistered sale of securities. Despite all this, CEO Brad Garlinghouse has recently hinted at an initial public offering for Ripple, which undoubtedly has some implications for the fate of altcoin. At press time, XRP is trading at $0.238, up over 1% over the past 24 hours, following a major green trend on crypto markets.
UK High Court Issues A Freeze on $1M of Bitcoin In A Ransomware Case
A United Kingdom High Court ordered a proprietary injunction on Bitcoin (BTC) obtained through a ransomware attack on a Canadian insurance company. A proprietary injunction is an order which prevents a person from dealing with their own assets when it is subject of a proprietary claim. On Jan. 17, the UK High Court released documents concerning a ransomware attack, in which over 1,000 computers of the insurance company were rendered unusable through the use of malware that encrypted files, making them unaccessible.
The unidentified attackers demanded $1.2 million in Bitcoin in exchange for decrypting the data. The firm’s insurer covered the client’s losses from cybercrime and agreed with the hackers to pay $950,000 in Bitcoin to decrypt the files, and received a tool to unlock them 24 hours after making the payment. Still, the company needed 10 days to restore all of its systems, including 20 servers and 1,000 desktop computers.
The company’s insurer hired blockchain major analytics firm Chainalysis to track the ransom. The analysis revealed that most of the Bitcoin, 96 BTC had been immediately laundered through crypto exchange Bitfinex. The court required Bitfinex to provide any information concerning the holder of the account that received the ransom by Dec. 18, 2019. Bitfinex did not clarify the status of the ransomers’ Bitcoin or what data was handed over to the court, stating:
“Bitfinex has robust systems in place to allow it to assist law enforcement authorities and litigants in cases such as this. In this case we have assisted the Claimant to trace the stolen Bitcoin and we understand the focus of the Claimant’s attention is no longer on the Bitfinex platform. It now appears Bitfinex is an entirely innocent party mixed up in this wrongdoing.”
According to a Jan. 25 report from New Money Review, the case is still ongoing. Darragh Connell, the insurance company’s legal representative, said, “Return hearings of the interim injunction will be heard again in due course before Mr Justice Bryan who has reserved the case to himself […] As this is only the interim stage, my client’s claim will need be determined after a trial in the Commercial Court in London.” Ransomware attacks are a major cybersecurity threat and are becoming increasingly advanced. Texas-based data center provider CyrusOne paid a $600,000 ransom in BTC in such an attack. In June 2019, hackers managed to infect the systems of the city council of Riviera Beach with ransomware and encrypt government files. Florida agreed to pay $600,000 worth of Bitcoin to the hackers.
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