Spouses Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan are accused of embezzlement and laundering a record 3.6 billion dollars.
The Ministry of Justice announced on Tuesday the disclosure of the largest cryptocurrency theft in history, confiscating bitcoins worth a record $3.6 billion from spouses who allegedly hacked the Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange in 2016.
Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, were arrested Tuesday morning in Manhattan, New York. According to Lisa Monaco, deputy Attorney General of the United States, Liechtenstein and Morgan are behind the largest financial theft in the history of the Ministry of Justice. Monaco stressed that the successful operation carried out by the Ministry of Justice was proof that the cryptocurrency is no longer “a haven for criminals.”
Lichtenstein and Morgan, both New Yorkers, appeared in federal court in the Southern District on Tuesday afternoon. They were charged with conspiring to launder money, as well as deceiving the authorities. The case was transferred to the federal court in Washington, DC.
The couple is accused of laundering 119,754 bitcoins stolen as a result of a hacker hacking of the Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange. Representatives of the Ministry of Justice stated that at the time of the crime, the value of the stolen funds was estimated at $ 71 million in bitcoins, however, taking into account the growth in the value of the cryptocurrency, now the volume of stolen bitcoins is estimated at more than $ 4.5 billion.
The key event in the investigation of this crime could be the collapse of the underground darknet market AlphaBay, which ceased to exist in 2017 as a result of the actions of law enforcement agencies. The Ministry of Justice reported that some of the funds stolen by hackers were transferred to AlphaBay.
According to Elliptic, a digital currency tracking company, the closure of the illegal site probably allowed the authorities to access AlphaBay’s internal transactions and link them to a cryptocurrency account opened in Liechtenstein’s name.
Bitfinex said in a statement that the exchange is working with the Department of Justice to “establish our rights to return stolen bitcoins.”
Lichtenstein and his wife also tried to launder money through a network of exchange offices and spent the funds as payments to a startup company opened by Heather Morgan, the Ministry of Justice said. On Tuesday, the prosecutor’s office said that the illegal proceeds were spent on the purchase of various things – starting with gold and NFC tokens and ending with “absolutely mundane” gift certificates of the Walmart retail chain.