US Officials Seize $3.6B in Bitcoin From 2016 Bitfinex Hack

Nearly 120,000 BTC was stolen in the hack.

Feb 8, 2022 at 4:46 p.m. UTC
Updated Feb 9, 2022 at 4:42 p.m. UTC

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Federal officials seized some $3.6 billion worth of bitcoin tied to the 2016 hack of the crypto exchange Bitfinex.

Agents arrested two individuals in New York on Tuesday on charges they conspired to launder proceeds from the Bitfinex hack in 2016. The married couple, Ilya "Dutch" Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, will appear in court at 3:00 p.m. ET in New York, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.

Some 120,000 BTC was stolen in the 2016 hack, then worth around $60 million and representing nearly one-sixth of the total trading volume at the time. At today's prices, the total amount of bitcoin stolen is valued at $4.5 billion, but the DOJ only seized about 94,000 BTC valued at $3.6 billion. The DOJ release alleges the two conspired to launder these proceeds and heavily implies, but does not claim, they were the original hacker(s).

“Unauthorized transactions” moved the stolen bitcoin to Lichtenstein’s wallet, and some 25,000 of the BTC were transferred out over the past five years. The remaining 94,000 BTC remained in Lichtenstein’s wallet.

“After the execution of court-authorized search warrants of online accounts controlled by Lichtenstein and Morgan, special agents obtained access to files within an online account controlled by Lichtenstein,” the press release said. “Those files contained the private keys required to access the digital wallet that directly received the funds stolen from Bitfinex, and allowed special agents to lawfully seize and recover more than 94,000 bitcoin that had been stolen from Bitfinex. The recovered bitcoin was valued at over $3.6 billion at the time of seizure."

Last week, on-chain sleuths spotted a transfer of over 94,000 of Bitfinex bitcoin. Sources told CoinDesk the transfer was a seizure conducted by federal agents. In a statement, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said it was “the department’s largest financial seizure ever.”

According to an attached statement of facts, “U.S. authorities traced the stolen funds on the BTC blockchain” as proceeds from the hack moved out of the initial recipient wallet to wallets allegedly controlled by Lichtenstein and Morgan.

Law enforcement officials were able to access the initial recipient wallet, dubbed Wallet 1CGA4s, after decrypting a file “saved to Lichtenstein’s cloud storage account,” which included 2,000 crypto wallet addresses and their private keys.

“Blockchain analysis confirmed that almost all of those wallets were directly linked to the hack,” the statement said.

The defendants allegedly used a number of techniques to launder the stolen bitcoin, including splitting transactions up into “thousands” of smaller transactions, using darknet markets and converting into other types of crypto such as monero.

The statement named darknet market AlphaBay as one such platform allegedly used by the defendants.

The statement of facts further alleges some of the funds went to an account tied to a company called SalesFolk, which was owned by Morgan.

LinkedIn profiles show a Heather R. Morgan and Dutch Ilya Lichtenstein have listed themselves as employees of SalesFolk since 2009 and 2014, respectively. Morgan’s LinkedIn suggests she was also a former columnist at Inc. Magazine and Forbes, while Lichtenstein’s lists previous roles at MixRank, Endpass and 500 Startups.

In a statement, Bitfinex said it would work with the DOJ to try and recover the seized bitcoin. If it does, it will repay investors in its UNUS SED LEO token, which was created to try and backstop a fiscal hole created after an unrelated payment processor used by Bitfinex was seized by authorities in three different countries.

“If Bitfinex receives a recovery of the stolen bitcoin, as described in the UNUS SED LEO token white paper, Bitfinex will, within 18 months of the date it receives that recovery, use an amount equal to 80% of the recovered net funds to repurchase and burn outstanding UNUS SED LEO tokens,” the company said. “These token repurchases can be accomplished in open market transactions or by acquiring UNUS SED LEO in over-the-counter trades, including directly trading bitcoin for UNUS SED LEO.”

The LEO token began pumping against the dollar on Bitfinex around 16:41 UTC, just after the news came out, climbing from $4.97 to over $7 within an hour.

UPDATE (Feb. 8, 2022, 17:40 UTC): Adds information throughout.

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Danny is CoinDesk's deputy business editor. He owns BTC, ETH and SOL.

CoinDesk - Unknown

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.

CoinDesk - Unknown

Danny is CoinDesk's deputy business editor. He owns BTC, ETH and SOL.

CoinDesk - Unknown

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.

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