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US Returns $154m Stolen by Japanese Bitcoin Thief

Rei Ishii, an employee of Sony Life Insurance Company in Tokyo, allegedly diverted the money in May when the company attempted to transfer funds between its accounts


PGIM said bitcoin, the most common cryptocurrency, was not a steadying force in early 2020 when global asset prices spiralled downward. Photo: Reuters.

 

The US Department of Justice said it has taken action to return more than $154 million allegedly stolen from a Sony subsidiary by one of its Japanese employees who converted it into bitcoin.

According to the civil forfeiture complaint filed Monday in San Diego, Rei Ishii, an employee of Sony Life Insurance Company in Tokyo, allegedly diverted the money in May when the company attempted to transfer funds between its accounts.

The money was diverted to an account Ishii controlled at a bank in La Jolla, California, and he then converted the funds into 3,879 bitcoins, valued at more than $180 million today, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.

The funds were seized on December 1 following an FBI investigation, it said.

With assistance from Sony, Citibank and Japanese law enforcement, FBI investigators were able to obtain the private key, equivalent to a password, needed to access the bitcoin address.

Criminal Charges

“All the bitcoins traceable to the theft have been recovered and fully preserved. Ishii has been criminally charged in Japan,” the Justice Department said.

“It is our intent to return the stolen money to the victim of this audacious theft, and today’s action helps us do that,” acting US attorney Randy Grossman said.

The cryptocurrency world has been plagued by theft and deception. In August, hackers behind one of the biggest cryptocurrency heists have returned more than a third of $613 million in digital coins they stole.

PolyNetwork, a decentralised finance platform that facilitates peer-to-peer transactions, said on Twitter that $260 million of the funds it had lost had been returned but $353 million remained outstanding.

Fraud and theft at decentralised finance platforms totalled $10.5 billion in the year to June 30, according to London-based blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, laying bare the risks in the fast-growing but still mostly unregulated area of cryptocurrencies.

 

  • Reuters with additional editing by George Russell

 


 

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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.

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