"If criminals believe they can hide their ill-gotten assets online they are very much mistaken."
That was the warning from Nick Price, head of the UK Crown Prosecution Service's proceeds of crime unit, who told The Register the agency had "already secured" a confiscation order for digital currency assets and "would expect more to follow".
Yep, crims' cryptocurrency can now be seized by the fuzz.
A CPS spokesperson told The Reg it defines digital currencies as intangible virtual currencies whose ownership can be transferred instantaneously, including old-school E-gold or Liberty Reserve and the modern Bitcoin, Ethereum and Monero.
The Evening Standard reported in 2016 that the CPS was calling for new legislation specifically for seizing digital currencies.
Now it turns out that the CPS has in total gleaned five restraint orders for assets including digital currency. In those cases, it has received permission from the Crown Court to require suspects to disclose the digital currency particulars and repatriate any assets held abroad to the UK.
The CPS also has permission for the digital currency assets to be converted into pound sterling. One of those cases is a confiscation order for £2.2m. About £26,000 of it is held in Bitcoin, but the order has to be paid up in pounds.
Risk advisory firm Camdor Global's Bob Swarup, author of Money Mania, told The Reg: "Technically speaking, they can seize any assets – the main thing is liquidating and converting back to pound sterling."
He said he was "not surprised" about the "growing interest in digital currency".
"Many countries are suspicious of digital currencies and almost certainly, there is no [know your customer] involved in their purchase, which automatically makes them suspect in the eyes of most policymakers when it comes to money laundering."
David Wall, a criminology professor at Leeds University who studies cybercrime, told El Reg the CPS would "have to prove it is money that is illegally obtained or the proceeds of crime. I would assume that this could be done via the Bitcoin wallets and the transaction codes on the blockchain."
He added: "It is interesting because it is more evidence of the trend that criminals are increasingly using cryptocurrencies."
However, based on the evidence he's seen: "Much of criminal use of Bitcoin is related to investment type scams, rather than its use in actual everyday transactions – with of course the exception of use as a payment method in dark markets and ransom payments to ransomware and data hackers."
A National Crime Agency report (PDF) on money laundering and terrorist financing published in October said: "The NCA has assessed the risk of digital currency use for money laundering to be relatively low; although NCA deems it likely that digital currencies are being used to launder low amounts at high volume, there is little evidence of them being used to launder large amounts of money.
"By contrast, from a cyber crime perspective, the threat posed by digital currencies is higher, owing to their role in directly enabling cyber-dependent crime."
A spokesperson for the Serious Fraud Office told The Reg: "The SFO has not obtained any confiscation orders for funds in a digital currency or decentralised virtual cryptocurrency." ®