Police in Australia have arrested a man and suspended the licences of two crypto exchanges as part of an investigation into an organised crime syndicate.
Detectives believe that the 27-year-old suspect played an instrumental role in the gang, which used a plethora of Bitcoin accounts, authentic businesses and dark net sites to distribute drugs and receive payments.
On Thursday, raids in three Melbourne suburbs uncovered steroids, Australian dollars and what officials describe as “cryptocurrency related items”. Separately, assets worth an estimated $2m Australian dollars have been seized – including real estate, cash, properties, a motorbike and cryptocurrency.
As a result of the man’s arrest, Australia’s financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC has suspended the licences of two crypto exchanges he was connected to – eliminating their ability to continue operating lawfully.
He has now been charged with importing, trafficking and possessing 30kg of MDMA, ketamine, methamphetamine and cocaine.
Paul Hopkins, detective superintendent at the Australian Federal Police, said: “When you take the profit out of crime, you hit offenders where it hurts most. Combined with serious criminal charges attracting long prison sentences, this highlights how trafficking drugs is simply not worth it in the long run.”
AUSTRAC officials have warned they are determined to “deter and disrupt criminal exploitation in the country” – and vowed to take “swift action” against illegal activity.
The suspect appeared in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday on 14 drug charges, and if convicted, he could face life in prison.
Somewhat regrettably for cryptocurrency enthusiasts, there has been a clear link between crime and digital assets. Back in January, research indicated that criminals stole crypto worth $1.7bn across the whole of 2018. The total number of coins taken was 3.6 times higher than 2017 – and concerningly, it was seven times higher than 2016.
At the time, the CEO of the company behind that report, Dave Jevans of CipherTrace, warned: “These numbers only represent the loot from crypto crimes that CipherTrace can validate; we have little doubt that the true number of crypto asset losses is much larger.”