NEARLY £3 billion in Bitcoin stolen a decade ago from a notorious dark web drug marketplace has finally been found – with some of it stored in a popcorn tin.
Cops found the stash hidden on computer devices stored at the home of James Zhong, from Georgia, in the United States.
Zhong, 32 pleaded guilty on Friday to committing wire fraud in 2012, after he hacked more than 50,000 Bitcoin – worth £2.9billion – a decade ago from the dark web marketplace Silk Road.
He faces up to 20 years in prison after one of the biggest Bitcoin busts of all time.
Cops found the devices holding the crypto hidden in an underground floor safe and on a single-board computer that was concealed under blankets in a popcorn tin stored in the bathroom.
US Attorney Damian Williams said: "For almost ten years, the whereabouts of this massive chunk of missing bitcoin had ballooned into an over $3.3 billion [£2.9billion] mystery.
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"Thanks to state-of-the-art cryptocurrency tracing and good old-fashioned police work, law enforcement located and recovered this impressive cache of crime proceeds."
Bitcoin is a digital currency that is completely virtual and outside the control of governments and central banks – like an online version of cash.
Investment in crypto currencies is risky as the market value fluctuates wildly.
Its value recently crashed below £17,000, down from £61,000 just a year ago.
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Silk Road, which first appeared on the dark web in 2011, was an online black market where users could anonymously buy and sell illegal goods – including drugs and fake driving licences.
A sting operation carried out in 2013 found a then 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht to be the mastermind of the operation, which sold $200m worth of drugs all over the world.
Using the alias “Dread Pirate Roberts” – named after the fictional character in The Princess Bride – Ulbricht was given two life sentences for his role as the kingpin running the criminal enterprise.
Zhong, who police say stole the money by exploiting a vulnerability in Silk Road’s payment system, now faces up to 20 years in prison.
It is the Justice Department's second-largest crypto seizure after February’s $3.6 billion recovered from a New York couple who allegedly stole 94,000 bitcoin by hacking the virtual currency exchange Bitfinex, in 2016.
It comes after a couple who were mistakenly paid £6million by a crypto trader are now facing court.
Thevamanogari Manivel, 40, and her husband Jatinder Singh, 37, are accused of stealing and splurging the cash after the crypto mix-up.
Manivel thought it was her lucky day when a trader mistakenly sent the windfall instead of a £60 refund.
She was expecting the small rebate from digital currency exchange Crypto.com, but received the seven-figure sum after a staff blunder.
It took the firm seven months to uncover their error during a routine audit when they realised there was a mistake in the forms.
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But by the time Crypto.com started legal proceedings in February this year, the mum from Melbourne, Australia had already spent most of the money.
If found guilty of stealing the money from the Commonwealth Bank – where it was transferred to – the couple face up to 20 years in prison.
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