The US Department of Justice has arrested two people over the 2016 hack of Hong Kong’s Bitfinex exchange, in which more than $4.5 billion in cryptocurrency was stolen.
Officials seized more than $3.6 billion in cryptocurrency when llya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, were arrested in New York on Tuesday.
They were accused of conspiring to launder proceeds of 119,754 bitcoin, US prosecutors said in a statement.
The cryptocurrency was allegedly stolen when the Hong Kong-based Bitfinex exchange was breached, the prosecutors said.
“Today’s arrests, and the department’s largest financial seizure ever, show that cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals,” deputy attorney-general Lisa Monaco said.
“In a futile effort to maintain digital anonymity, the defendants laundered stolen funds through a labyrinth of cryptocurrency transactions,” she added.
“Thanks to the meticulous work of law enforcement, the department once again showed how it can and will follow the money, no matter what form it takes.”
Lichtenstein and Morgan face up to 20 years in prison.
The arrests come as the US Treasury is sounding the alarm over the risks posed by stablecoins, as officials push for new laws to regulate the fast-growing industry.
Nellie Liang, the Under-secretary for Domestic Finance, told a Congressional committee on Tuesday she was concerned about the potential implications of the growth of such digital currencies, which she said posed risks to consumers and the wider economy.
“The offer of a stable value means [stablecoins] have the potential to be used as a means of payment by households, businesses and financial firms,” Liang said.
“This potential use could create significant benefits for stablecoin users and payments transactions, but it could also pose risks.”
- George Russell