In May 2017, Bulgarian authorities arrested 23 people in connection with a criminal scheme that attempted to avoid customs tax charges on international shipments.
The arrests came at an end of an investigation dubbed “PRATKA/VIRUS” (Pratka is the Bulgarian word for “shipment”) which investigated the planting of malware on customs’ computer networks that made it possible for shipments to circumvent normal checks.
As would be normal on an investigation of this scale, properties and vehicles were searched, computers and smartphones were seized, and financial records examined.
But in addition to the normal evidence, the Southeast European Law Enforcement Center (SELEC) reported that Bulgarian authorities also stumbled across 213,519 Bitcoins during the investigation. At the time, each Bitcoin was worth about US $2354, making a tidy total of US $500 million.
By anyone’s standards, that’s a fair amount of money.
Since May, however, the price of Bitcoin has rocketed. In fact, as I write this article, the price for each Bitcoin is US $16,596.56. Which means that, if SELEC is to be believed, the Bulgarian authorities have over 3 billion dollars burning a hole in their virtual wallet. US $3,543,680,894.64 to be precise.
Mystery remains, however, as to what will happen to this huge amount of virtual currency.
Independent Bulgarian journalists at bivol.bg issued the Interior Ministry with a freedom of information request, asking for the public keys of the wallets containing the Bitcoin treasure trove be published to prevent abuse.
However, the only response from local authorities was a claim that no Bitcoins were ever seized.
So, who’s got the story wrong? Was SELEC incorrect in the first place suggesting that the Bulgarian authorities had seized the huge Bitcoin bounty, or is someone in Bulgaria covering up law-enforcement’s windfall?
Or… could it be that although the Bulgarians stumbled across evidence of criminals hording 213,519 Bitcoins, they don’t have the private keys necessary to unlock them?
My guess is as good as yours. But if I had even had a fraction of the Bitcoins that these criminals appear to have had earlier this year, I would feel sorely tempted to cash some of them in right now.
That is, if I didn’t have law enforcement breathing down my neck interested in scooping up any of my criminal proceeds.