Bitcoin seized from dark web auctioned by Mallusk firm Wilsons Auctions
Wilsons Auctions made history last night by staging the world's first live physical auction for Bitcoin.
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The Mallusk-based firm beat competition from across Europe to win the contract to dispose of the criminal assets on behalf of the Belgian Government. It includes a batch of 315 Bitcoin seized from criminals operating on the dark web. The total haul is valued at around £300,000.
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin has become increasingly popular among criminals. Unlike traditional currencies, which use a central bank, a cryptocurrency operates through blockchain technology, which records every transaction via an online public ledger system. It has become prevalent on the 'dark web', an area of the internet only accessible by using anonymity software.
Wilsons have offered most of the Bitcoin via a 24-hour online auction, garnering interest from 110 countries.
But last night it put some of it under the hammer alongside a series of luxury seized assets from Rolex watches and Lou Vuitton bags to a Bentley car and Jimmy Choo shoes.
Some of the watches were part of a £330,000 haul stolen from the son of a Russian billionaire in London in 2015.
A large amount of the Bitcoin being auctioned was seized from two drug-dealing brothers in Antwerp, who were selling substances over the dark net and shipping it worldwide.
Wilsons is now the largest independent auctioneer in the UK and Ireland, employing around 400 people. Aidan Larkin, head of asset recovery, said his division had grown "massively" from a single staff member five years ago to around 50.
"Five years ago we had a handful of contracts, we now represent 90% of law enforcement agencies in the UK and Ireland, in addition to contracts in Belgium, Malta and now the Balkan countries and soon to be in Nigeria and in Malaysia.
"We're involved in some of the biggest fraud cases, where there are tens of millions of pounds of assets being managed.
"The stuff you see on a Wilsons Auctions website for sale could have been seized from a corrupt political leader in the Balkans," he said.
"We're now dealing with cases for example in Bermuda, where there are 25 seized vessels that haven't been moved in a long time. We have a case with 6,000 parked cars in Macedonia."
He said the criminal assets auctioned by the firm had yielded more than £100m for HMRC in the past five years.