Largest seizure of cryptocurrency
Ilya Lichtenstein , Heather Morgan
United States ()

The largest legal seizure of cryptocurrency was undertaken by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on 8 February 2022. The government seized $3.6 billion in cryptocurrency believed to be associated with the 2016 hack of the cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex. The assets were seized as part of an investigation into Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan (both US), who stand accused of masterminded a complex money laundering scheme.

The 2016 Bitfinex hack resulted in 119,754 bitcoins being transferred out of customer accounts. At the time of the hack, this was worth around $71 million, but it had grown to $4.5 billion by the time of the US government's asset seizure. According to DOJ statements, investigators traced this block of cryptocurrency through a long and complex series of transactions over the course of several years, eventually tracking it to accounts controlled by Lichtenstein and Morgan.

DOJ relied on sophisticated analytical methods developed in the private sector for complex money laundry techniques. DOJ used “clustering analysis” – essentially pattern recognition algorithms – to scan the blockchain for transaction patterns, thereby assisting investigators in untangling attempts to obfuscate the flow of funds.