New Zealand Police restrains record-breaking $140 million in international investigation

New Zealand Police restrains record-breaking $140 million in international investigation
Photo credit: Getty

New Zealand Police has restrained a whopping $140 million - its largest restraint of funds ever - as part of an international investigation into cyber crime.

The money has been restrained from Canton Business Corporation (CBC) and its owner Alexander Vinnik, who have been holding funds in a New Zealand company.

CBC and Vinnik previously operated cryptocurrency trading platform BTC-e.

Police allege BTC-e, whose headquarters are in the US, has no controls or policies in place to prevent money laundering over the platform.

"This resulted in criminals and cyber criminals laundering proceeds derived from a range of criminal activities including computer hacking, ransomware attacks, theft, fraud, corruption and drug crime through BTC-e," a police statement sent to media read.

Greek authorities arrested Vinnik in 2017 on money laundering charges, and he has since been extradited to France, where he remains in custody.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says New Zealand Police has worked alongside the US' Internal Revenue Service in an effort to address what it says is "very serious offending".

"These funds are likely to reflect the profit gained from the victimisation of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people globally as a result of cyber-crime and organised crime," he explained.

"This restraint demonstrates that New Zealand is not, and will not be, a safe haven for the illicit proceeds generated from crime in other parts of the world.

"The global criminal community need to understand New Zealand's financial system, and companies established here, are not the places to try to hide illicit income."

The investigation is ongoing, pending an application to the High Court seeking forfeiture of the funds.

Coster says police in New Zealand have the ability and expertise to look into claims of this magnitude.

"I want to acknowledge the tireless work of the Asset Recovery Unit in successfully restraining these illicit funds," he said. "They applied for the order during alert level 4, which shows their commitment to holding organised criminals to account."

Police say its Asset Recovery Unit has in the last 11 months restrained $165.4 million in cash and bank accounts, and nearly $63 million in assets and property.

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