Justice Department recovers $3.6 billion in Bitcoin from 2016 Bitfinex hack

It's the largest financial seizure in DOJ history.

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A representations of cryptocurrency Bitcoin placed on U.S. dollars in this illustration taken, January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Dado Ruvic / reuters

The Department of Justice has seized approximately $3.6 billion worth of Bitcoin stolen in the 2016 hack of Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex. At the time, the incident was the second-largest heist of its kind, with a hacker stealing 119,756 units of Bitcoin, then valued at approximately $63.7 million. On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced the seizure of more than 94,000 Bitcoins and the arrest of the duo who allegedly tried to launder the fortune.

According to the agency, husband and wife Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan obtained the cryptocurrency after a hacker breached Bitfinex’s systems and initiated more than 2,000 illegal transactions. The cryptocurrency was deposited in a digital wallet controlled by Lichtenstein. The two then allegedly spent the next five years moving more than 25,000 Bitcoins using a “complicated” laundering process that eventually saw some of the money end up in their financial accounts. Following a court order, federal agents obtained online files from Lichtenstein that included the private keys to the digital wallet that held the stolen cryptocurrency.

“Cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said. “Thanks to the meticulous work of law enforcement, the department once again showed how it can and will follow the money, no matter the form it takes.”

The case marks the largest financial seizure in the Justice Department’s 151-year history. Before today, its largest cryptocurrency seizure involved the Silk Road dark web marketplace. In 2020, the agency recovered 69,000 Bitcoins, worth about $1 billion at the time. Lichtenstein and Morgan face up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the money laundering and conspiracy charges brought forward by the Justice Department.

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