UK police seize $250 million in cryptocurrency tied to an international money-laundering operation

A hand holds a bitcoin toward the sky in this photo representation of the cryptocurrency.
Suspected criminals have been using cryptocurrency in money-laundering operations.

  • UK police seize £180 million in cryptocurrency, Metropolitan Police said Tuesday.
  • The team of detectives who seized the funds just weeks ago took hold of a then-record £114 million in crypto.
  • A 39-year old woman was arrested on suspicion of money-laundering offenses.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Police in the UK following a criminal investigation took hold of about £180 million in cryptocurrency, with the seizure topping a record amount made just weeks before by law enforcement.

Metropolitan Police on Tuesday said detectives with its Economic Crime Command received intelligence about the transfer of criminal assets, leading to the July 10 discovery of nearly £180 million ($249 million) worth of cryptocurrency. The Met didn’t specify the type of cryptocurrency that was seized. The detectives have been focusing on an ongoing investigation into a suspected international money laundering.

A 39-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of money laundering offenses on June 24, the Met said, adding that she was released on bail.

The same team of detectives on June 24 seized £114 million in cryptocurrency – then a record amount – as part of their probes.

“Proceeds of crime are laundered in many different ways. While cash still remains king in the criminal world, as digital platforms develop we’re increasingly seeing organized criminals using cryptocurrency to launder their dirty money,” said Graham McNulty, the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner, in a statement.

Police said the investigation has been complex and wide-ranging and will continue for months to identify the people at the center of the money-laundering ring.

Meanwhile, in the US, a “prolific identity thief” who fraudulently used credit cards, pocketed $500,000, and bought bitcoin has been sentenced to three years in prison, according to the federal court in Seattle.

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Key financial-crisis regulator Sheila Bair says ‘stay away’ from bitcoin while it is at ‘nosebleed’ levels

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Former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chair Sheila Bair warned investors of getting into bitcoin at its current record-high price. Bair, a key banking regulator during the height of the global financial crisis in 2008, said she does not have confidence in the cryptocurrency.

“Stay away from it,” she said on Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg. “It’s volatile. It’s at nosebleed levels now. We don’t know how sustainable that is.”

Bair’s comments came before two big announcements on Thursday, as Mastercard announced it will allow merchants to accept select cryptocurrencies on Thursday and Bank of New York Mellon said that it will issue, hold, and transfer bitcoin for clients in the future.

The news of further participation from large institutions send the price of bitcoin soaring to an intraday record of $48,364.06.

“If you’re a very wealthy person with some money to risk, fine,” she added. “The problem with bitcoin is it is so volatile. So its original premise as a method of payment really, its volatility gets in the way of its usefulness.”

Bair did add that what she is more interested in is the “technology that underpins Bitcoin.” She is currently a board member of Paxos, a New York-based fintech company that specializes in blockchain, and Spring Labs, a tech company focused on building a blockchain-based network.

“Yes, [bitcoin] has risks but where there are risks, there are definitely also opportunities,” Julius de Kempenaer, senior technical analyst at StockCharts told Insider. “But for those who know what they are doing, have proper risk management in place, can handle the stress, and can afford the potential losses – give it a go.”

Others voice concern about bitcoin’s decentralized nature and lack of oversight. 

“The price of bitcoin is like a meme, it gets everyone excited,” said Mike Venuto, co-portfolio manager of the Amplify Transformational Data Sharing ETF, an approximately $391 million ETF that focuses on blockchain technologies and companies dealing with cryptocurrencies. 

“This excitement obscures the reality of the original bitcoin thesis of decentralization, replacing the trusted third party and banking the unbanked,” he said. “The focus now seems to be the store of value argument from the limited supply.”

The portfolio manager added that while the adoption of bitcoin as a store of value and as a means of the transaction has reignited interest in cryptocurrencies especially because of Elon Musk, he still doubts “we will ever buy coffee with bitcoin.”

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