Bitcoin’s ‘First Felon’ Faces More Legal Trouble

Charlie Shrem went to prison in 2015 after he pleaded guilty to helping people buy drugs online. Now he’s being sued by the Winklevoss twins.

SAN FRANCISCO — Over the last year, Charlie Shrem, a 28-year-old Bitcoin investor, has bought two Maseratis, two powerboats — one of them 32 feet long — and a $2 million house in Florida, along with smaller pieces of real estate.

In the world of cryptocurrencies, where millions can be made and lost in a day, that might not make Mr. Shrem stand out. But unlike most Bitcoin entrepreneurs, in 2016 Mr. Shrem got out of prison, where he spent a year after pleading guilty to illegally helping people turn dollars into Bitcoin to buy drugs online.

Mr. Shrem, who had been the chief executive of Bitinstant, one of the first prominent Bitcoin businesses in the United States, has said in recent interviews that he went to prison with almost no money.

So where did the money for the expensive toys come from? That’s what two former business partners want to know.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twins who turned money from a settlement with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg into a Bitcoin fortune, said they suspected Mr. Shrem had actually been spending Bitcoin that he owed them since 2012, according to a lawsuit unsealed in federal court on Thursday. The Bitcoin would be worth around $32 million at current prices.

“Either Shrem has been incredibly lucky and successful since leaving prison, or — more likely — he ‘acquired’ his six properties, two Maseratis, two powerboats and other holdings with the appreciated value of the 5,000 Bitcoin he stole from” the Winklevoss twins in 2012, the lawsuit says.

The judge who oversaw Mr. Shrem’s earlier trial has already agreed to freeze some of Mr. Shrem’s financial assets, according to court documents.

The lawsuit could blossom into an even bigger problem for Mr. Shrem because an affidavit filed in court suggests that Mr. Shrem has also not paid the government $950,000 in restitution that he agreed to as part of his 2014 guilty plea.

Mr. Shrem’s lawyer, Brian Klein, said in a statement that the claims by the Winklevoss brothers were baseless. “The lawsuit erroneously alleges that about six years ago Charlie essentially misappropriated thousands of Bitcoins,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Charlie plans to vigorously defend himself and quickly clear his name.”.

The lawsuit from the twins threatens another reversal of fortune for Mr. Shrem, who went from being one of the earliest Bitcoin millionaires to being called Bitcoin’s “first felon.”

When he was arrested in 2014, Mr. Shrem was accused by federal authorities of using his company, Bitinstant, to knowingly sell Bitcoin to people who wanted it to buy drugs from the online black market, Silk Road.

Since his release in 2016, Mr. Shrem has said in numerous interviews that he recognizes his past mistakes and wants to cut a new and legal path. On the podcast “Love, Sex and Money,” Mr. Shrem said that in the first months out of prison, he worked as a dishwasher and didn’t look at his email.

Over the last year, though, Mr. Shrem, has already gotten involved with a number of troubled projects.

He was among the leaders of two efforts — one a cryptocurrency credit card and the other an initial coin offering — that had to give money back to investors after various partnerships that Mr. Shrem had promised fell through.

But those are likely to be mere headaches compared to what he could face in a confrontation with the Winklevoss twins. Mr. Shrem helped get the brothers interested in Bitcoin in 2012 and became their first adviser in the young industry.

A few months into this partnership, the twins said they realized that Mr. Shrem had not given them all the Bitcoin they were due. The brothers gave Mr. Shrem $250,000 in September 2012, but the lawsuit says that a month later, he only delivered around $189,000 worth of Bitcoin at the going price, which was around $12.50 at the time.

The 5,000 or so missing Bitcoins became a point of tension between the twins and Mr. Shrem. They asked him numerous times for an accounting of the Bitcoins he had purchased and eventually brought in an accountant who documented the missing funds, according to court documents.

“I have been patient and at this point, it’s getting a bit absurd,” Cameron Winklevoss wrote to Mr. Shrem in 2013 in an email quoted in the lawsuit. “I don’t take this lightly.”

The missing Bitcoin, which were worth 98 percent less at the time, appeared to have been forgotten in a broader battle between the brothers and Mr. Shrem over an investment in Bitinstant.

In 2013, Bitinstant fell apart and the twins blocked Mr. Shrem’s efforts to revive the company with new investors because of their concerns about his management style. By the time Mr. Shrem was arrested in 2014, as a result of activities at Bitinstant that took place before the brothers invested, they had cut off contact with him.

The Winklevoss twins’ problems with Mr. Shrem have not held them back. They were briefly each cryptocurrency billionaires last year, and they have built one of the leading cryptocurrency exchanges, Gemini. Despite this year’s big drop in cryptocurrency prices, their holdings are still worth nearly a billion dollars.

Cameron Winklevoss said that he and his brother decided to pursue the missing Bitcoins again after they saw Mr. Shrem’s recent spending patterns.

“When he purchased $4 million in real estate, two Maseratis, and two power boats, we decided it was time to get to the bottom of it,” Mr. Winklevoss told The New York Times.

The brothers hired an investigator, who found that 5,000 Bitcoins were transferred in 2013 through addresses associated with Mr. Shrem and onto the Bitcoin wallet services Xapo and Coinbase, according to the complaint. The investigator traced the money on the blockchain, the public ledger where all Bitcoin transactions are recorded.

Jed S. Rakoff, a judge in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, approved an application the twins made in September to freeze any funds that Mr. Shrem holds with those companies. Judge Rakoff wrote in his order that Mr. Shrem had “evidenced an intent to frustrate the collection efforts of his creditors.”

The court fight could cause problems for Mr. Shrem’s latest venture, a firm called Crypto.IQ. The company, which promises market intelligence to Bitcoin traders, is holding a conference for customers in Las Vegas this month promising “unparalleled insights from a roster of experts at the very epicenter of the crypto universe.”

In an interview with Breaker magazine last month, Mr. Shrem said he was getting used to the ups and downs.

“My personal life goes through bull and bear markets, too,” he said. “So the key is how to deal with it when you’re in the bear markets.”

Bitcoin [BTC] worth $5.84 million stolen from MapleChange; Binance CEO gives his insight

MapleChange, a Canada-based cryptocurrency exchange, recently announced that their platform was hacked. The exchange platform took to their Twitter handle to provide clarity on the situation, stating that they could not refund the stolen cryptocurrencies.

According to their official post, a bug on the platform enabled a group of hackers to withdraw funds remotely. The platform reported that 913 Bitcoins [BTC] were stolen and that they cannot refund any of the funds until a “thorough investigation” was conducted.

Another controversial aspect was that the “thorough investigation” resulted in the exchange platform realizing that they did not have funds for repaying its users. Furthermore, they stated that the platform would not function anymore and that they would soon deactivate their social media channels. Their official post stated:

“We have sustained a hack, and we are investigating the issue.”

On their official Twitter handle, the exchange stated that they had not “disappeared”, but had temporarily turned off their accounts to think of a solution.

In addition, they could not refund “everyone with all their funds”, but would soon open wallets in order to allow its users to “hopefully” withdraw whatever funds were left on the exchange. They added:

“We CANNOT refund any BTC or LTC funds unfortunately. We will try our best to refund everything else.”

Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange in terms of trading volume, was surprised by the hack and stated that a procedure was required to rank exchanges based on their wallet storage. He added that users had to avoid using exchange platforms which did not have anything in their cold wallets.

Maplechange’ed, a platform dedicated to find, take down and expose maplechange.com, with the help of members from the Lumeneo [LMO] telegram channel, allegedly found that Glad Poenaru, a service technician at American Piledriving Equipment, could have been responsible for the hack.

Joseph Young, a cryptocurrency investor and analyst, stated:

“A small crypto exchange pulled off an exit scam, taking all customer funds. There is no incentive for using small exchanges. Use established exchanges that are regulated, & transparent. Small exchanges also focus on maximizing profitability, not security or investor protection.”

MapleChange further added:

“We are sending all of the coin developers the wallets containing the coins we have left. So far, LMO and CCX have been handed over the funds.”

https://ambcrypto.com/bitcoin-btc-worth-5-84-million-stolen-from-maplechange-binance-ceo-gives-his-insight/

How Binance is Legitimizing the Crypto Market by Eliminating Money Laundering

Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, has voluntarily engaged in an initiative to eliminate money laundering on its platform.

For years, despite the inherent lack of privacy measures on major public blockchain networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum that discourage the settlement of illicit transactions, a widely pushed narrative against crypto has been the suspected usage of digital assets by criminals.

Eliminating Easily Refutable Claims

Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, EOS, and many other major cryptocurrencies are not anonymous by nature. With Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) systems integrated by cryptocurrency exchanges, it is extremely difficult for criminals to utilize digital assets to settle the transfer of illegal proceeds.

Authorities and government agencies across the globe are well aware of the non-anonymous characteristic of blockchains, which could have motivated governments like the US, Japan, and South Korea to legitimate and recognize the cryptocurrency market.

This week, Binance has started to cooperate with Chainalysis, a leading blockchain analysis company that evaluates suspicious transactions and addresses, to improve its AML system and to further legitimize the cryptocurrency sector.

binance cryptocurrency exchange

“Cryptocurrency businesses of all sizes face the same core challenge: earning the trust of regulators, financial institutions and users. We expect many to follow Binance’s lead to build world-class AML compliance programs to satisfy regulators globally and build trust with major financial institutions,” said Jonathan Levin, co-founder and COO of Chainalysis.

In 2018, some of the world’s most influential banks were cracked down for money laundering. Danske Bank laundered $243 billion from criminal groups, and as CCN reported on October 20, Nordea Bank, the largest financial group in the Nordic countries, is said to have taken several illicit payments from banks in the Baltic region.

With the institutional market of cryptocurrencies growing exponentially, the tightening of AML systems employed by public exchanges is expected to solidify cryptocurrencies as a recognized asset class and the digital asset market as a well-regulated sector.

Wei Zhao, the CFO at Binance, said that maintaining the firm’s vision of increasing the freedom of money globally, the exchange will continue to adhere to regulatory mandates in the countries it operates in.

“By working with Chainalysis, we are able to continue building a foundational compliance program that enables the next phase of our growth. Our vision is to provide the infrastructure for a blockchain ecosystem and increase the freedom of money globally, while adhering to regulatory mandates in the countries we serve.”

Importance of Compliance

The cryptocurrency sector is entering a new phase of development and growth, as Zhou explained.

During the 2017 bull market in which the valuation of the cryptocurrency market surged to $800 billion, the asset class obtained significant mainstream awareness in both countries that support crypto and regions that have established impractical regulatory frameworks to prevent local blockchain markets to flourish.

In a period in which governments are introducing increasing efforts to embrace crypto and blockchain businesses as a part of the fourth industrial revolution, voluntary initiatives by companies like Binance to legitimize the industry will ease the process of governments in regulating and acknowledging the global market.

https://www.ccn.com/how-binance-is-legitimizing-the-crypto-market-by-eliminating-money-laundering/

Dark Web Dealer ‘OxyMonster’ Forfeits $700,000 in Crypto with 20-Year Prison Term

US District Judge Robert Scola has imposed a 20-year prison sentence on 36 year-old Gal Vallerius also known as “Oxymonster” on the dark web drug hub Dream Market.

In June, CCN reported that the French-Israeli citizen was apprehended by police at Atlanta airport in 2017 while attending the World Beard and Moustache Championship in Austin Texas. He will now start his prison term in Southern Florida after being convicted of money laundering and narcotics trafficking.

Huge Crypto Seizure

In his plea agreement, Vallerius admitted to selling drugs like oxycodone, heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and Ritalin in exchange for cryptocurrencies including bitcoin and bitcoin cash on the dark web. More than 100 BTC and 121.95 BCH – equivalent to over $700,000 – seized from him as proceeds of illicit activity will now be forfeited to the government.

For many, the big question following the forfeiture is: “What becomes of this huge amount of crypto in the hands of the U.S. government?”

A development of this nature is not new. In 2015, after Silk Road creator, Ross Ulbricht was given a life sentence, the government took possession of 144,336 BTC found on his laptop. At a time when the price of one bitcoin was just over $300, the government realized a total of over $48 million selling to multiple auctions. Some later criticized the government’s hasty sale which prevented it from earning far more.

With his plea agreement, sources say Vallerius would have to “provide all necessary passwords” to enable the government gain access. It remains uncertain if the government will take similar action to that taken of Silk Road, or delay auctions till prices show upward movement. The rarity of this situation makes it hard for analysts to predict what decision the government will make.

Earlier this week, Irish native Gary Davis pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell drugs on the Silk Road under the alias Libertas. In 2017, the District Court in California also seized over $8 million worth of cryptocurrency from Alexandre Cazes who committed suicide in Thailand after being accused of running a dark web market AlphaBay. With more cases related to crime which might ultimately lead to similar forfeitures, the U.S. government might just be dealing with crypto auctions more regularly.

Some have however suggested that at a time when the U. S. Justice Department is investigating the possible manipulation of cryptocurrency prices, crypto acquired through the legal system is somewhat unlikely to last in the custody of government for long.

https://www.ccn.com/dark-web-dealer-oxymonster-forfeits-700000-in-crypto-with-20-year-prison-term/

Bitcoin Hedge Fund and CEO Slapped With $2.5 Million Penalty for Ponzi Scheme

A New York federal court has ordered cryptocurrency hedge fund Gelfman Blueprint, Inc. (GBI) and its CEO Nicholas Gelfman to pay over $2.5 million for operating a fraudulent Ponzi scheme, according to an official announcement published Oct. 18.

GBI is a New York-based corporation and denominated Bitcoin (BTC) hedge fund incorporated in 2014. As stated on the company’s website, by 2015 it had 85 customers and 2,367 BTC under management.

The order is the continuation of the initial anti-fraud enforcement action filed by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) against GBI in September 2017. The CFTC charged GBI for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme from 2014 to 2016, telling investors that it had developed a computer algorithm called “Jigsaw” which allowed for substantial returns through a commodity fund. In reality, the entire scheme was a fraud.

Per the announcement, GBI and Gelfman fraudulently solicited over $600,000 from at least 80 customers. Moreover, Gelfman set up a fake computer “hack” to conceal the scheme’s trading losses. It eventually resulted in the loss of almost all customer funds.

The current order charges GBI and Gelfman to pay over $2.5 million in civil monetary penalties and restitution. GBI and Gelfman are ordered to pay $554,734.48 and $492,064.53 in restitution to customers and $1,854,000 and $177,501 in civil monetary penalties, respectively.

James McDonald, the CFTC’s Director of Enforcement, said that “this case marks yet another victory for the Commission in the virtual currency enforcement arena. As this string of cases shows, the CFTC is determined to identify bad actors in these virtual currency markets and hold them accountable.”

Last month, the CFTC filed a suit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against two defendants for the allegedly fraudulent solicitation of BTC. Per the suit, defendants Morgan Hunt and Kim Hecroft were running two fraudulent businesses and misleading the public to invest in leveraged or margined foreign currency contracts, such as forex, binary options, and diamonds.

https://cointelegraph.com/news/bitcoin-hedge-fund-and-ceo-slapped-with-25-million-penalty-for-ponzi-scheme

Cryptocurrency Thieves On Track To Steal Over $1 Billion In 2018

By Nermeen Abbas

The total value of stolen cryptocurrency is expected to hit over $1 billion by the end of this year, which represents a 350% increase over the amount that was stolen in all of 2017, according to a new research from CipherTrace.

The U.S cybersecurity firm revealed that during the first three quarters of 2018, $927 million of cryptocurrency was reported as stolen from exchanges by hackers; $166 million was reported stolen since the second quarter, driven by an emerging trend toward more frequent and smaller cyber-attacks by sophisticated thieves.

According to CipherTrace 2018 Q3 Cryptocurrency Anti-Money, a quantitative analysis of all the transactions on the 20 top cryptocurrency exchanges globally, 97% of direct bitcoin payments from identifiable criminal sources were received by unregulated cryptocurrency exchanges.

Nearly 5% of all bitcoin sent to poorly regulated exchanges comes from criminal activity before the money is moved, undetected, into the global financial payments system.

The poorly regulated exchanges have laundered a significant amount of bitcoin, totalling 380,000 BTC, or $2.5 billion at today’s prices, which means that 36 times more criminal bitcoin was received by crypto exchanges in countries where AML is either lax or lacking.

The CipherTrace reports analyzed 45 million transactions at 20 top cryptocurrency exchanges globally between January 2009 until September 20, 2018. “There are likely 50% more criminal transactions than those that were traced for this report because criminals are typically very clever and deft at hiding their tracks,” the cybersecurity firm commented.

“This extensive research shows that regulation does have a direct correlation in hindering criminal activity, and we are on the right track to instill further trust in the crypto ecosystem. We will see the opportunities to launder Cryptocurrencies greatly reduced in the coming 18 months as Cryptocurrency AML regulations are rolled out globally,” commented Dave Jevans, CEO, CipherTrace and co-chair of the Cryptocurrency Working Group at the APWG.org.

The study shows that efforts to enact and enforce strong cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations are drastically reducing criminal activity on digital currency exchanges.

It also marked a steadily growing number of cryptocurrency thefts, which included several heists in the $20-$60 million range; the data indicates a pattern of smaller robberies on a regular basis and sophisticated professional cyber thieves who carry out hacks at both the exchange and platform.

In the 2018 Q2 Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Report, CipherTrace revealed a three-fold increase in cryptocurrency thefts during the first half of 2018 compared with the entire year of 2017. Most notable were the $530 million worth of tokens stolen in Japan from Coincheck and $195 million worth of tokens stolen from BitGrail.

According to CipherTrace, criminals are expected to quickly launder the stolen tokens before stronger cryptocurrency anti-money laundering controls are deployed globally over the next 18 months.

Crypto Exchange ShapeShift Calls Money Laundering Claims ‘Deceptive

By Nikhilesh De

ShapeShift has issued a stinging rebuke of a Wall Street Journal investigative article that claimed the crypto exchange was used by criminals to launder money.

In a blog post published Monday, CEO Erik Voorhees said the news outlet’s report showed a misunderstanding of how cryptocurrencies work and that the article’s claims were factually incorrect.

Calling the claims “factually inaccurate and deceptive,” Voorhees wrote that his exchange had been working with the Journal for nearly half a year, but the final story “omitted relevant information” and showed that “the authors do not have a sufficient understanding of blockchain and our platform in particular.”

The article – published Friday – follows an investigation by the Journal into cryptocurrency exchanges. The authors concluded that some $88 million was laundered through 46 different exchanges over two years, with $9 million going through ShapeShift in that period. This was the largest sum sent through any U.S.-based exchange, the report said (though registered in Switzerland, ShapeShift operates out of the state of Colorado).

Voorhees wrote that “even if it was true” that $9 million was laundered through ShapeShift, it would represent only 0.15 percent of the exchange’s total volume. Moreover, the exchange has “a strong record of complying with law-enforcement requests, providing valuable assistance in over 30 investigations in 13 different countries all over the world.”

He also claimed users cannot launder fiat currencies through the exchange, saying:

“Unlike most other exchanges, ShapeShift is a crypto-to-crypto, non-custodial platform.  We don’t take custody of user funds, but instead swap our own assets for theirs, at a set price.  We don’t touch fiat currency, so users cannot swap their dollars/euros/yen for our bitcoin/ethereum/dogecoin. Not a single dollar, euro, or yen has ever been laundered through ShapeShift.  It can’t be done.”

Understanding transactions

Voorhees claimed that some fundamental misunderstandings of how wallet addresses work may have resulted in some of the Journal’s conclusions.

He cited one example, saying that funds from a suspicious transaction were sent to an exchange, which later sent funds to ShapeShift.

“Because ShapeShift happens to be a customer of this same exchange – 10 months later in a completely unrelated transaction – the exchange sent funds to ShapeShift. The authors didn’t understand how to properly read the blockchain transactions, so they assumed there was $70k in ‘dirty money’ sent to ShapeShift,” he wrote.

Voorhees said ShapeShift has asked the Journal for additional transaction information to verify other claims, but the news organization has so far not done so.

Data transparency

Voorhees also asserted that ShapeShift is one of the most transparent exchanges operating today.

Every transaction through the exchange is published online, despite the user privacy protections that it has maintained to date, he wrote.

The Journal relied on this information to conduct its investigation, he said, adding that “perhaps the irony is lost on the WSJ, but the WSJ would have been unable to do this kind of investigation with any other crypto exchange, because they aren’t transparent in this way.”

“Ultimately, we are trying to pioneer a new financial system,” he concluded. “We don’t expect to be loved by the old … yet ShapeShift has always been in favor of complying with the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates, even though many of these laws are unclear, ever-changing, contradictory, and in some cases ineffective.”

Global standard for cryptocurrency anti-money laundering to be agreed

The global anti-money laundering task force has said it is closer to establishing a worldwide set of standards to apply to virtual currencies.

The president of the Financial Action Task Force, Marshall Billingslea, said he is optimistic that at its plenary, due in October, the FATF will agree a series of standards that will close the anti-money laundering “gaps” that all nations face.

“It is essential that we establish a global set of standards that are applied in a uniform manner,” he added.

The task force has accelerated its work and made significant progress on reaching a “consensus across nations” after the G20 requested the organisation tackle the issue as a matter of urgency.

In October, the FATF will discuss which of its existing standards need to be updated to address virtual assets, since its current recommendations do not acknowledge them. It will then revise the methodology it uses to assess how countries implement these standards and when this revised assessment methodology will take effect.

Mr Billingslea, who is also assistant secretary to the US secretary, said currently the adoption of anti-money laundering standards and regimes pertaining to digital assets and virtual currencies is “very much a patchwork quilt or spotty process,” which is “creating significant vulnerabilities for both national and international financial systems”.

China and South Korea have clamped down on the sector, while other countries — including France, Switzerland, Malta and Gibraltar — are drawing up regimes for formally policing the space in an attempt to attract fintech business.

UK MPs also highlighted on Wednesday the urgent need to regulate “Wild West” crypto-asset markets. The Commons Treasury select committee warned that a dearth of regulation around crypto-assets had left investors exposed to a “litany of risks” — without any of the protections usually afforded to consumers, such as access to compensation.

Cryptocurrencies are not regulated by central banks but are held digitally via electronic identities that in many cases allow their owners to remain anonymous. As a result, they have been linked to payments for prohibited goods such as guns and drugs and are a target for hackers.

Mr Billingslea said there were concerns of an emerging use of virtual currencies by terrorist organisations including Isis, as well as in extortion schemes, such as the WannaCry attacks.

His comments come after some observers argued that authorities such as Europol, Europe’s law enforcement agency, should devise a centralised system that flags cryptocurrency wallets linked to nefarious activities to major exchanges, so that they can block the owners from exchanging those funds for hard cash.

Despite the risks associated with digital assets, Mr Billingslea said they also presented “a great opportunity”. In terms of regulation, he said, “you can’t tilt too far in one direction or another” since blockchain, the technology that underpins virtual assets, “will continue to evolve”.

https://www.ft.com/content/1a67f6b2-bbf7-11e8-94b2-17176fbf93f5

House Passes Bill to Update Money Laundering Crypto Enforcement

By Jacob Rund

The Treasury Department’s anti-money laundering enforcement unit could soon see an update to its duties after the House advanced legislation aimed at prioritizing its focus on cryptocurrencies and other emerging technologies.

The FinCEN Improvement Act (H.R. 6411), which passed Sept. 12 on a voice vote, would add language to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s governing law that requires it to coordinate with other countries’ financial intelligence units on cryptocurrency-related initiatives.

It would also add tribal law enforcement groups to the list of “partners” with whom FinCEN is tasked with working to combat money laundering and other activities that fund terrorism and organized crime. Those partners, according to U.S. code, include “federal, state, local, and foreign” law enforcement and regulatory authorities.

The bill “is an important step in modernizing FinCEN and ensuring our law enforcement and intelligence communities can detect and prevent criminals and terrorist networks from using virtual currencies” for money laundering and cyberwarfare, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) said in July when the bill was introduced.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) joined Perlmutter in sponsoring the legislation.

Redundant?

“It’s an insult to small potatoes everywhere,” Ross Delston, a Washington attorney and anti-money laundering expert witness, said of the bill. It would give FinCEN authority that it already has to deal with activities involving cryptocurrency, he told Bloomberg Law.

FinCEN officials have stated that they will go after criminals using bitcoin and other virtual currencies to launder money and avoid the traditional financial system.

“As far as coordinating with tribal authorities, while that could in theory be an issue, it’s not going to come up an awful lot,” Delston said. “It’s a really minor issue.”

Regardless of these complaints, the bill passed with bipartisan support.

The bill, in addition to its language on cryptocurrencies and tribal law enforcement, contains a provision that would require FinCEN to support activities that protect against “terrorism,” rather than “international terrorism” as U.S. code now states.

Another Bill Coming

Another bill targeted at FinCEN’s information sharing and collaborative efforts will be considered this week. Financial Services Committee members plan to vote Sept. 13 on the 2018 FinCEN Modernization Act (H.R. 6721), which would instruct the bureau to create and maintain “research, development, and information sharing programs.”

It would allow FinCEN to enter into transactions with other government agencies, states, and “any agency or instrumentality” of the United States that furthers the goals of information sharing and developing new technologies. The bureau could also solicit and accept gifts from these parties.

The bill could provide an inside track for vendors to avoid the normal procurement process and land a government contract by offering cash or “in kind” gifts, Delston said.

Jailed Bitcoin expert subject of three-way fight over money-laundering inquiry

https://www.thenational.ae/business/technology/jailed-bitcoin-expert-subject-of-three-way-fight-over-money-laundering-inquiry-1.766673

A cryptocurrency expert languishing in a Greek jail may have a vantage point on a tantalising issue – how Russians in US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s crosshairs used Bitcoin to obscure their money trail.

The expert, Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik, was detained last year after US prosecutors in San Francisco accused him of supervising a digital-currency exchange that helped criminals launder billions of dollars. That exchange, according to cryptocurrency analysis company Elliptic, handled some Bitcoins traced to Fancy Bear, a hacking unit. Fancy Bear is one of the names for the Russian military intelligence officers who Mr Mueller separately accuses of stealing and releasing Democrats’ emails to sway votes in the 2016 elections.

Three countries are fighting to extradite Mr Vinnik: Russia, France and the US. The link outlined by Elliptic could explain why – and why Russia has threatened retaliation against Greece if it hands him over to one of the others.

The next turn in the Greek matter comes Tuesday. The country’s Supreme Court is set to rule on extradition requests from France and Russia, which both allege that Mr Vinnik committed cybercrimes against their citizens.

Mr Vinnik is one of multiple Russian hackers indicted by the US, some of whom could provide insights into Russian cybercrime beyond their individual cases.

Yevgeniy Nikulin, who was extradited from the Czech Republic and is charged in San Francisco with hacking LinkedIn and Dropbox in 2012, is of interest in the US inquiry into election meddling, a Justice Department official said last week. Peter Levashov, a Russian programmer who has claimed he worked for Vladimir Putin’s ruling party, is charged in Connecticut with cybercrimes linked to spamming.

Mr Vinnik denies the US money-laundering accusations, according to his lawyer, Ilias Spyrliadis. He had no control over the $9 billion (Dh33.06bn) in Bitcoin that US prosecutors in San Francisco say ran through BTC-e, the cryptocurrency exchange, the lawyer said.

Mr Vinnik won’t comment on the Russian fraud accusations, Mr Spyrliadis said, and he denies the French charges including money laundering. Still, as an alternative to extradition, Mr Vinnik has offered to work with Greek and possibly other authorities from his current location, the lawyer said.

In the San Francisco case, the US says that Mr Vinnik and BTC-e catered to cybercriminals and allowed them to launder criminal proceeds from Bitcoin and other digital currencies and turn them into cash. The exchange didn’t vet customers, letting them move money in and out anonymously. To set up an account, according to the indictment, all a person needed was a username, password and email address, which often bore no relationship to the identity of the user.

That sort of service matches a description by Mr Mueller of how the Russian military intelligence officers layered transactions through cryptocurrency exchanges to maintain anonymity when they bought time on servers they used to launch attacks.

Elliptic used details provided in the indictment, such as a transfer of exactly 0.026043 Bitcoin on February 1, 2016, to search the electronic register of all Bitcoin transactions – known as the blockchain – to find specific payments. It then used software it has developed to identify the origin of the funds for those transactions.

“There was a strong link between much of the funds allegedly used by the Fancy Bear group and BTC-e,” said Tom Robinson, Elliptic’s chief data officer. “What I can’t say for certain is whether Fancy Bear obtained them directly from BTC-e, or whether there was an intermediary.”

Mr Vinnik couldn’t have known who, really, was using the platform, Mr Spyrliadis said. While Mr Vinnik was an expert working for BTC-e he was “in no way running it”, the lawyer said.

“Mr Vinnik could sometimes see a passport and ID when performing the transactions, but was in no place to know whether this person was using a fake ID, whether he or she was wanted by Interpol or involved in anything,” he said.

The US has been trying to get its hands on Mr Vinnik for more than a year. Greece’s Supreme Court ruled in December that he could be extradited to the US to face the charges in San Francisco. But the process has been stalled by the requests from Russian and France. Greece’s Supreme Court may well approve both the French and Russian requests, Mr Spyrliadis said.

That would punt the decision to Greece’s new justice minister. Before coming to any resolution on extradition, the Greek Justice Ministry will also need to examine a political asylum request by Mr Vinnik. A justice ministry spokeswoman said the minister couldn’t comment on the case as he has just assumed his post.

A co-operating Mr Vinnik would open the door to the US gaining strategic information on Russian hackers, said Arkady Bukh, the lead lawyer defending Mr Nikulin. Getting access to emails, names and bank accounts related to Russian hacking is what Mr Vinnik’s case in the US is really about, said Mr Bukh, who isn’t representing Mr Vinnik.

Cryptocurrency exchanges are “extremely important and of great interest to the US”, said Mr Bukh. He had been in touch with Mr Vinnik’s friends about getting him legal representation outside of Greece, he said.

But first, the US would have to get its hands on Mr Vinnik, something Russia appears dead set against.

A Greek regional court approved the French extradition request in July. Russia immediately lashed out at the country: “It is obvious the Russia cannot leave these actions unanswered,” its foreign ministry warned.

Later that same day, July 13, Mr Mueller rolled out his indictment against the Russian military intelligence officers.

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