UK Police Seize and Convert Bitcoin in Criminal Probe

  • Court ruling means authorities can seize cryptocurrency
  • “Bitcoin is not completely anonymous and it is not above the capabilities of law enforcement” say police

Surrey Police have netted £1.25m worth of bitcoin from its seizure of money and assets from Seregjs Teresko, a convicted Latvian money-launderer with ties to organised crime. According to the FT, the force becomes the first in the UK to seize and convert bitcoin as part of a criminal probe.

The court ruled that Teresko, must forfeit £1.45m of his ill-gotten gains, including the cryptocurrency and Surrey Police gets to keep 18.8 percent of the proceeds of Teresko’s crimes, about £273k.

A digital key that accessed Teresko’s bitcoin was found by police at his property, along with a Rolex watch, Gucci shoes, gold bars, credit cards and cash in sterling, euros and Thai Baht.

Following a court hearing last October, the police set up its own bitcoin wallet and used an offshore exchange to transfer and convert Teresko’s 295 bitcoin. At that time the crypto-currency was trading at $4,830.

Detective Inspector Matthew Durkin from Surrey police’s economic crime unit said:

“This case shows bitcoin is not completely anonymous. It is not above the capabilities of law enforcement; we have the technology and the ability to conduct criminal investigations to identify and prosecute offenders.”

The FT reports that while other forces including the Metropolitan Police have helped send criminal down who were using cryptocurrencies, Surrey Police is thought to be the first to succeed in having bitcoin confiscated by a court.

The court ruling on the haul and the boost to the force’s budget may encourage other forces to increase their efforts on criminal activity involving cryptocurrencies.

According to the BBC, the police authorities are seeing a trend where money "in the billions" is being generated from street sales of drugs across Europe and is being converted into bitcoins. The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation estimates that about 3-4 percent of the £100bn in illicit proceeds in Europe is laundered through cryptocurrencies and the number is growing quickly.

The biggest problem for crime fighters is identifying the owner of the coins. If, they cannot identify the owner they cannot freeze the assets unlike in the regular banking system.