Federal prosecutors in the city of San Diego, California have filed a lawsuit to seize more than $150 million in funds that were illicitly seized from the Sony Life Insurance Co. in Japan. The money was transferred through the La Jolla Bank and converted into crypto, where it was later stored in a Coinbase account.
Sony Has Been the Victim of a Major Theft
The seizure order was issued after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took back nearly 4,000 units of bitcoin that were related to the scheme. The money was then in the bitcoin wallet belonging to the San Diego FBI branch with the intent of being sent back to Sony.
The funds were moved by an employee of Sony named Rei Ishii. The funds were taken from a Citibank account held by Sony and transferred through a Coinbase account held at the Silvergate Bank in San Diego. The money was converted into BTC, the world’s number one digital currency by market cap.
Silvergate has been one of the most revolutionary financial institutions in the crypto space. Despite being a standard monetary bank, Silvergate was one of the first to offer crypto-based products and services to its clients. Some of these tools included fund transfers, a digital currency payment system, and customer account controls.
Legal documents allege that Ishii transferred the money more than six months ago in May of 2021 in what was thought to be a ransom scheme. Additional documents show emails sent between Ishii and Sony that suggest extortion occurred. Messages were recorded like:
If you accept the settlement, we will return the funds back… If you are going to file criminal charges, it will be impossible to recover the funds.
Law enforcement agents were able to locate the bitcoin, which was being stored in an offline “cold” wallet. They were later able to find the private keys associated with the wallet and gain access to the money. At this stage of the game, all the funds that were stolen have been recovered and are now under full police protection. Ishii is also facing criminal charges in his native Japan.
This Has Happened a Lot This Year
Randy Grossman – acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California – said in an interview:
This case is an example of amazing work by FBI agents and Japanese law enforcement, who team up to track this virtual cash. Criminals should take note. You can’t rely on cryptocurrency to hide your ill-gotten gains from law enforcement.
Cases like this have occurred throughout the 2021 fiscal year. With bitcoin’s price increasing so rapidly, the amount of criminal activity has increased tenfold. One notable example involved the FBI tracing and getting more than $2 million in crypto funds back from hackers that had engaged in a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline.