UK Court Convicts Crypto-Launderer in Historic 4 Billion Pound Seizure

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UK Court Convicts Crypto-Launderer in Historic 4 Billion Pound Seizure

Last week, the UK’s Metropolitan Police announced a conviction in the largest cryptocurrency seizure in the nation’s history. TRM is proud to support the Met Police and law enforcement agencies across the globe.

Following a five-year investigation, led by specialist economic crime officers in the Met, Jian Wen was convicted in of money laundering for her involvement in a massive fraud and money laundering scheme. As part of the investigation, the Met Police seized Bitcoin wallets storing about 61,000 bitcoin, now worth over £4.3 billion, making it the largest seizure of its kind in UK history.

During the course of the trial, the Court heard testimony on how the source of the cryptocurrency was an investment fraud scheme in China for which Wen knowingly laundered the proceeds.

Detectives from the Met were able to trace and track the flow of illicit proceeds in order to build their investigation, unravel the elaborate, large-scale network of transactions, and, ultimately, seize the illicit proceeds. 

This case is unique for a number of reasons. First, the sheer amount of funds seized by the Met Police. Second, the depth and breadth of a five-year investigation which involved searches of several residential addresses and the review of 48 electronic devices and thousands of digital files. But perhaps the most unique piece of this case was the defendant herself who was not a sophisticated nation-state actor, cybercriminal or even involved in the underlying fraud.

According to the BBC, Wen was a “takeaway worker” who ended up in a multi-billion pound laundering scheme involving bitcoin, jewelry, multi-million pound residences in London and international real estate. “Although Wen was living in a flat above a Chinese restaurant in Leeds when she became involved in the criminal activity,” according to the BBC’s coverage of the Crown Prosecutor’s evidence, “Her new lifestyle saw her move into a six-bedroom house in north London in 2017 which was rented for more than £17,000 per month. She posed as an employee of an international jewelry business and moved her son to the UK to attend private school . . .  That same year, Wen tried to buy a string of expensive houses in London, but struggled to pass money-laundering checks and her claims she had earned millions legitimately mining Bitcoin were not believed. She later traveled abroad, buying jewelry worth tens of thousands of pounds in Zurich, and purchasing properties in Dubai in 2019.”

Wen is scheduled to be sentenced on May 10, 2024.

According to a recent report by TRM Labs, around USD 1.5 billion more was sent to scam and fraud entities in 2023 than in 2022 - an 11% increase from USD 12.5 billion to USD 13.9 billion accounting for about a third of all crypto crime in 2023. Despite the overall proportion of total illicit funds in the crypto ecosystem shrinking by 9% year-on-year, criminals still handled over USD 34 billion worth of cryptocurrencies. As the crypto economy grows we are likely to see more fraud activity, however, law enforcement agencies like the Met Police are able to track and trace the flow of funds in cryptocurrencies in ways impossible in the traditional financial system making it possible to investigate cases like this one and seize back stolen funds.

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