Making sense of the Bitfinex Bitcoin billions


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It’s the Netflix script that wrote itself. A narrative so outlandish, it’s shocked the crypto group; an business accustomed to apparent suicides in Spanish jail cells and nonfungible token auctions for dead rappers.

The plot entails the US Division of Justice (DoJ), a crypto change with a checkered historical past, a rapper-cum-Forbes journal author, a voucher to purchase a brand new PlayStation, an occasional magician and $4 billion value of Bitcoin (BTC).

The alleged Bitfinex hack cash launderers have saved the web enraptured because the larger-than-life story emerged final week. It’s no marvel that Netflix has truly introduced that they are going to bring the story to life.

In essence, a zany rapper who advises firms on social engineering and tackling cybercriminals named Heather Morgan and her cybersecurity specialist husband Ilya Lichtenstein had been caught making an attempt to launder funds stolen from the 2016 Bitfinex hack. Funds had been laundered by way of the acquisition of video games consoles, Uber rides and different reward vouchers.

Morgan in a Decrease East Facet Manhattan artwork studio. Supply: Twitter

Regardless of their nerdy credentials, according to the DoJ report, legislation enforcement gained entry to the couple’s personal keys via a cloud storage account. Sure, they saved their personal keys to upwards of $3 billion in Bitcoin within the cloud.

However, with so many unanswered questions and weird circumstances, the information of the Bitfinex billions has left Twitter scrambling for puzzle items whereas armchair investigators have their work reduce out for them, developing with much more outlandish theories.

Amid wild theories and a few questionable reporting, this text intends to put out the established details surrounding the Bitfinex hack and what it means now that the DoJ is now holding 90,000 Bitcoin.

Bitfinex hack 2016

The Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency change Bitfinex was hacked six years ago to the tune of $70 million. The assault was quick: In simply two Bitcoin blocks spanning circa 20 minutes, Bitfinex wallets beneath the custody of Bitgo had been drained of all their funds. In complete, thieves stole 120,000 Bitcoin, now value over $4 billion.

As one of many greatest hacks in Bitcoin historical past, the hack induced a pointy selloff and the worth per Bitcoin slumped to round $500. It’s vital to notice that the cash laundering couple, Morgan and Lichtenstein, are not accused of hacking the exchange, the hackers are nonetheless at massive.

The Bitfinex group labored tirelessly in response to the hack, devising an progressive answer to revive investor confidence. Initially, Bitfinex concocted and launched BFX tokens and “restoration rights tokens” (RRT). Whereas tokenization is widespread in 2022, in 2016–17, earlier than the preliminary coin providing mania, the issuance of tokens was radical.

The tokens served as an IOU to prospects affected by the hack and could possibly be redeemed for money or exchanged for iFinex capital inventory (iFinex being Bitfinex’s mum or dad firm).

Designed in such a method that Bitfinex might later purchase again the tokens from customers or provide shares within the platform to compensate, the BFX and RRT solution kept Bitfinex liquid and probably “compensated buyers sooner than conventional proceedings.”

By April 2017, Bitfinex recovered sufficient funds to cowl or reimburse all customers affected by the hack eight months prior. Erik Voorhees called the recapitalization “F*cking Superb,” Bitcoin podcaster Peter McCormack described the process as “socializing the losses.”

The hack and subsequent quasi-fund restoration are in stark distinction to the notorious Mt. Gox hack of 2014, as Mt.Gox collectors change are only now discussing refund plans.


Quick ahead 5 years, and whereas a number of the Bitfinex Bitcoin moved a number of instances and was successfully laundered over time, legislation enforcement and blockchain lovers watched the wallets like a hawk.

Given the transparency of the Bitcoin blockchain, the hacked cash had been blacklisted from crypto exchanges which means that laundering the cash would show troublesome.

90,000 Bitcoin, roughly $3.6 billion, moved in early February. The DoJ was behind the transfer and the protagonists, Morgan and Lichtenstein, sprung into the highlight. The DoJ’s assertion explained that:

“Particular brokers obtained entry to information inside a web-based account managed by Lichtenstein. These information contained the personal keys required to entry the digital pockets that instantly obtained the funds stolen from Bitfinex, and allowed particular brokers to lawfully seize and recuperate greater than 94,000 bitcoin that had been stolen from Bitfinex.”

Consequently, the DoJ now has 94,000 Bitcoin in its possession. The repercussions of the U.S. acquiring a lot Bitcoin are broad reaching from inflicting a potential Bitcoin price crash to questions concerning when, if and the place the funds can be returned.

LEO token

That is the place the Netflix saga takes a breather and hypothesis takes over. The retrieved Bitcoin stays in a pockets, and whereas the money-laundering trial unravels, the token UNUS SED LEO (LEO) has mooned whereas commentators theorize on the stolen Bitcoin.

As a small piece to the Bitfinex puzzle however a big a part of the broader Bitfinex saga image, the LEO token is one other instance of economic ingenuity. In 2019, the Bitfinex mum or dad firm iFinex listed LEO as an change utility token.

The token granted merchants decrease charges and solved issues regarding iFinex’ funds processors. Crucially, the token’s 2019 white paper said:

“An quantity equal to a minimum of 80% of recovered internet funds from the BitFinex hack can be used to repurchase and burn excellent LEO tokens inside 18 months from the date of restoration.”

In a bulletin made final week, Bitfinex backed the white paper declare, stating, “Bitfinex will, inside 18 months of the date it receives that restoration, use an quantity equal to 80% of the recovered internet funds to repurchase and burn excellent UNUS SED LEO tokens.”

Certainly, merchants are banking on these funds returning to Bitfinex. The LEO token has soared, reaching new highs and leaping over 50%.

Nonetheless, whereas Bitfinex could also be assured of recovering the hacked Bitcoin, the DoJ has not disclosed the subsequent steps.

The DoJ’s a hodler now?

As said, the stolen Bitcoin remains in a Division of Justice pockets. The blockchain pockets deal with holds 94,632 Bitcoin, with the final deposit obtained on Feb. 11.

A pockets containing over 94,000 Bitcoin in 2022 is appreciable: MicroStrategy owns 125,000 Bitcoin and Tesla holds 43,200. We will solely assume that the DoJ has higher opsec than the alleged money-launderers and won’t retailer the keys within the cloud.

The Bitcoin Treasuries Twitter joked that they might add it to their record of Bitcoin treasuries, implying that the US would develop into a holder of the retrieved funds.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao asked, “in the event that they [Bitfinex] get the BTC again, how ought to they break up that with LEO holder, or the individuals who took a loss to just accept LEO on the time of the hack (after which bought LEO)?”

In an interview on the WAGMI podcast, Paolo Ardoino, the chief expertise officer of Bitfinex, sounded assured about regaining the funds. He mentioned they’re “actively engaged on returning them (the funds) safely,” including that it might take a while.

Ardoino pressured the significance of “giving again to the group” and reiterated as soon as once more that Bitfinex will use 80% of the funds to purchase again LEO — however it’s unlikely to be a “market purchase.”

A securities fraud and funding loss lawyer David Silver said that “Bitfinex goes to battle like hell to maintain the cash for themselves.”

In the end, although, he added, “the gov’t will administer the redistribution.” In a boon for privateness, the federal government might use the chance upon returning the funds to establish and consequently tax the unique Bitcoin holders.