Police just seized $160 million in cryptocurrency in the UK’s biggest-ever dirty digital money haul

A view of bitcoin, Ethereum, Xipple, Litecoin and Dogecoin, Yichang, Hubei Province, China, June 23, 2021.
  • Police in London seized cryptocurrency worth about $160 million in a money-laundering investigation.
  • The Met’s haul is the biggest-ever crypto confiscation in the UK, as criminals move to tech platforms.
  • British police want tougher laws to let them freeze crypto assets, as they can with cash, the Times reported.
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Detectives in London have seized cryptocurrency worth about $160 million during a money-laundering investigation, the Metropolitan Police said on Thursday, describing it as the largest confiscation of digital money in the UK and possibly one of the biggest worldwide.

The Met did not reveal which types of cryptocurrency were involved, nor where and when the seizure took place, but it did say its Economic Crime Command carried out the seizure after receiving information about the transfer of criminal assets. The money-laundering investigation is still ongoing.

Cryptocurrencies have proven a draw for criminals looking to hide the origins of dirty money, as crypto networks are decentralized and they can be difficult to track.

“Cash remains king, but as technology and online platforms develop, some are moving to more sophisticated methods of laundering their profits,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said, cited in the Met’s statement on the haul.

The Met is seeking additional laws that would allow them to stop the movement of crypto assets, as they can do with cash transfers, The Times reported earlier in June.

Outdated laws are holding law enforcement agencies back from freezing such assets, said Mick Gallagher, a senior detective in the Met’s specialist crime command, The Times reported.

“The conversations that we’re having is about how we align cryptocurrency to the same kind of approach that we have about cash-based criminality,” Gallagher said. “Cryptocurrency is invisible, it’s instant, it goes around the world, it’s not tangible.”

In a separate instance, South Korean officials seized more than $47 million in bitcoin, ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies from $12,000 people accused of tax invasion after a month-long investigation, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.

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