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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is cracking down on criminals who seek to use cryptocurrency as a means of hiding their illicit gains.

In a new press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Southern California announced that it plans to return over $150 million of funds that were stolen from Japanese electronics giant Sony by an employee named Rei Ishii.

As part of an international effort, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) determined that Mr. Ishii first embezzled the money while Sony was conducting a transfer between accounts.

Ishii diverted the funds to a bank account he controlled in La Jolla, California, then converted it into 3,879 Bitcoin and sent the BTC to a cold wallet.

This past summer the FBI worked closely with Sony and Citibank as well as Japanese law enforcement authorities to investigate the matter. They were successful in obtaining the cold wallet’s private key and subsequently recovered its contents.

Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said the stolen funds will be returned and also issued a stern warning to those seeking to take advantage of cryptocurrency’s promise of anonymity in order to steal.

He said,

“Criminals should take note: You cannot rely on cryptocurrency to hide your ill-gotten gains from law enforcement.

The United States coordinates extensively with its international partners to forestall crime and retrieve stolen funds.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner added,

“The FBI’s technical expertise was able to trace the money to the subject’s crypto wallet and seize those funds.”

A number of domestic agencies coordinated on the investigation, including the DOJ Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

Mr. Ishii faces criminal charges in Japan. At time of writing Bitcoin is priced at $48,690, meaning that his illicit haul is now worth over $188 million.

Read the entire press release here.

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Featured Image: Shutterstock/andreync/Chuenmanuse

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