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Mets biggest ever Bitcoin seizure of £114 million laundering gang

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For anyone who has been to the bank and tried to withdraw large amounts will be aware of the long process.

You will be bombarded with a list of questions and maybe even be investigated if suspicions arise.

But in the fast growing world of crypto currency this is not a issue.

Do you need to send £1million now to a associate? job done, no long questions asked transaction completed in minutes and stored on the blockchain.

Attraction

This easy transfer of money digitally removes the risk of police seizing cash and this means gangs are drawn to it as a method to launder cash.

Record breaking

Today, specialist detectives investigating money laundering offences made the seizure worth £114 million the largest cryptocurrency seizure in the UK and believed to be one of the largest globally.

The seizure was carried out by detectives from the Met’s Economic Crime Command on the back of intelligence received about the transfer of criminal assets.

Statements

The investigation continues. Detective Constable Joe Ryan said: “Criminals need to legitimise their money otherwise it risks being seized by law enforcement.

The proceeds of crime are almost always laundered to hide the origin, but by disrupting the flow of funds before they are reinvested, we can make London an incredibly difficult place for criminals to operate.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said: “Every single part of the Met is working to reduce violence on the streets of London as an absolute priority, this includes our financial investigators.

“There is an inherent link between money and violence.

Violence is used to extort, blackmail, burgle, control and exploit.

It’s used to protect criminal profits and maintain control of territories.

Cash or Crypto?

“Cash remains king, but as technology and online platforms develop, some are moving to more sophisticated methods of laundering their profits.

But, we have highly trained officers and specialist units working day and night to remain one step ahead.

“These officers not only work to disrupt and seize funds being transferred digitally, they continue to deprive criminals of hard cash.

In the financial year 2020/21, police have seized more than £47 million from the hands of criminals.

Laws

Scotland Yard detectives want new laws to let them freeze the cryptocurrency assets of criminals in the same way they can stop them transferring funds.

The Met is lobbying the government to change the legislation to make it tougher for criminals to transfer cryptocurrency, which is used by money launderers.

Lobbying

Mick Gallagher, detective chief superintendent at the Met’s central specialist crime command, said that cryptocurrency such as bitcoin could not always be frozen or seized because of outdated legislation.

He told The Times: “The conversations that we’re having is about how we align cryptocurrency to the same kind of approach that we have about cash-based criminality. Cryptocurrency is invisible, it’s instant, it goes around the world, it’s not tangible.

Crypto Lines

There has been many examples of gangs using bitcoin to evolve in the criminal world.

Accepting payments for drugs in crypto and even sending large amounts to pay for their own supplies.

In a case from may, the ringleaders of a organised crime group in Essex which supplied drugs to county lines gangs had been jailed for a combined total of more than 40 years.

Christopher Golding headed up the network, which smuggled cocaine in containers through ports before selling it on to gangs supplying west Essex, Hertfordshire, London and Suffolk.

The operation was estimated to have earned them at least £500,000 which was stashed in Bitcoin or laundered through the pub Golding ran as a licensee.

County Lines

Officers started an investigation into the group after members of the public reported seeing drug dealing taking place.

Two of the group members, Lee Collett and Lee Wilkinson, were arrested in May 2018.


As officers progressed their enquiries, they began identifying main players higher up the chain, eventually leading them to Golding.

Encrochat

Then last year an international operation – led in the UK by the National Crime Agency – saw the takedown of the encrypted communications platform EncroChat

The secure mobile phone instant messaging was primarily used by criminals to co-ordinate and plan criminal activities including the distribution of illicit commodities and money laundering.

Messages obtained from EncroChat provided further evidence of the scale of the drugs operation being run by Golding and dated back to Christmas Day 2017.

He was arranging bulk sales of cocaine – charging £41,000 for a kilogram.

It was also evident he was using Bitcoin as a form of payment and was laundering money through the crypto currency.

Computer forensics

Financial investigators, working with colleagues from the Eastern Region Serious Operations Unit, identified he had transferred more than £120,000 into Bitcoin accounts in 2020.

Detective Chief Inspector Lewis Basford, of the Serious Violence Unit, said: “The extra evidence secured from the EncroChat messages was the final nail in the coffin for Golding and his key associates.

More than £100,000 in cash, assets and weapons, as well as £120,000 worth of cocaine were seized during dawn raids in Harlow and Suffolk last year.

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