U.K. authorities seized 61,000 BTC valued at approximately £1.4 billion (or $1.78 billion) related to an investment fraud that operated in China, the Financial Times reported.
The mastermind behind the fraud, Zhimin Qian, converted part of the profits from a £5 billion investment scam operated in China between 2014 and 2017 into the top cryptocurrency to facilitate the seamless transfer of funds from the Asian country.
Qian, now identified as Yadi Zhang with a St. Kitts and Nevis passport, moved to the U.K. in 2017. However, prosecutors said she has since fled the country and remains at large.
The authorities uncovered the fraudulent activities when Zhang enlisted the help of Jian Wen to launder the money, ultimately attracting attention when attempting to purchase a £23.5 million mansion in London. This led to a police raid on their £17,000-per-month rented apartment, resulting in the seizure of numerous digital wallets containing the 61,000 BTC.
Although not implicated in the initial fraud, Wen is facing trial for three counts of money laundering. The prosecutors alleged that she assisted Zhang in converting the digital assets into cash, jewelry, and other luxury items, as well as property, while knowing it was the proceeds of crime.
Notably, their attempts to purchase properties, including a £12.5 million eight-bedroom home with a cinema and gym, with the BTC failed because they could not explain its source.
Wen has pleaded not guilty and contends that she is merely Zhang’s caregiver.
Meanwhile, this seizure aligns with a broader trend of UK authorities cracking down on illegal cryptocurrency activities. On Jan. 26, the National Crime Agency announced the seizure of $150 million linked to a multi-million-dollar drug enterprise.
In a global context, the U.S. and German authorities have also taken similar actions recently. On Jan. 30, the German police announced that they confiscated a record $2.3 billion worth of illegal cryptocurrency from a piracy website.