US seizes record $3.6 billion in Bitcoin from Bitfinex hack

Bitfinex home page on smartphone screen

The FBI has arrested a married couple in New York, alleging they conspired to launder cryptocurrency stolen from the 2016 hack of virtual currency exchange Bitfinex.

In August 2016, hackers stole $65 million (£49 million) in Bitcoin from the Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange – an amount that today is valued at $4.5 billion (£3.3 billion).

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced this week tha two people linked to the hack had been arrested – Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan.

The married couple were charged with money laundering, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, as well as conspiracy to defraud the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Jim Lee, chief of the IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), which was involved in the investigation alongside the FBI, described Lichtenstein and Morgan’s actions as “a methodical and calculated scheme” that allowed them “allegedly launder and disguise their vast fortune”.

“IRS-CI Cyber Crimes Unit special agents have once again unravelled a sophisticated laundering technique, enabling them to trace, access and seize the stolen funds, which has amounted to the largest cryptocurrency seizure to date, valued at more than $3.6 billion," he added.


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Although Lichtenstein and Morgan haven’t been formally accused of hacking Bitfinex. However, the DoJ's Statement of Facts reveals that law enforcement decrypted a file found in Lichtenstein’s cloud storage account, which uncovered “a list of 2,000 virtual currency addresses, along with corresponding private keys”.

Blockchain analysis confirmed that almost all of those addresses were directly linked to the hack,” the DoJ document stated.

However, the couple aren’t the only people involved in the heist:. In 2019, ​​Israeli authorities arrested brothers Eli and Assaf Gigi for their involvement in the attack.

In a stamement, Bitfinex said that it appreciates the "hard work an dedication" of the DoJ team that led to this "great success".

“We have been cooperating extensively with the DoJ since its investigation began and will continue to do so," a spokesperson for the company said in a statement.

"Bitfinex will work with the DoJ and follow appropriate legal processes to establish our rights to a return of the stolen bitcoin. Bitfinex intends to provide further updates on its efforts to obtain a return of the stolen bitcoin as and when those updates are available."

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.