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Criminals hide 'billions' in crypto-cash - Europol

From BBC - February 11, 2018

Three to four billion pounds of criminal money in Europe is being laundered through cryptocurrencies, according to Europol.

The agency's director Rob Wainwright told the BBC's Panorama that regulators and industry leaders need to work together to tackle the problem.

The warning comes after Bitcoin's value fell by half from record highs in December.

UK police have not commented to the programme.

Mr Wainwright said that Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, estimates that about 3-4% of the 100bn in illicit proceeds in Europe are laundered through cryptocurrencies.

"It's growing quite quickly and we are quite concerned," he said.

There many different types of cryptocurrencies but the best known is Bitcoin. They are intended to be a digital alternative to pounds, dollars or euros.

However, unlike traditional currencies, they are not printed by governments and traditional banks, nor controlled or regulated by them.

Instead, digital coins are created by computers running complex mathematical equations, a process known as "mining". A network of computers across the world then keeps track of the transactions using virtual addresses, hiding individual identities.

The anonymous and unregulated nature of virtual currencies is attracting criminals, making it hard for police to track them as it is difficult to identify who is moving payments.

'Money mules'

Mr Wainwright said: "They are not banks and governed by a central authority so the police cannot monitor those transactions.

"And if they do identify them as criminal they have no way to freeze the assets unlike in the regular banking system."

Another problem Europol has identified involves the method that criminals use to launder money.

'Too slow'

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