Operation Fails and Police Hands $45,000 in Bitcoin to New Zealand Criminals

Charlie Taylor

New Zealand law enforcement authorities had $45,000 worth of bitcoin stolen by criminals during an unsuccessful operation that targeted money laundering operators. According to the NZ Herald, the detectives' objective was to hire the services offered by the offenders to locate and arrest them. The amount in bitcoin was bought by the police themselves at the end of last year to be used in a “controlled purchase” — when officials try to buy illicit goods or services. The operation, however, went awry and not only did the police lose $45,000 in bitcoin, but also failed to identify the criminals or the whereabouts of the stolen cryptocurrencies. Authorities have not given details of the case, but the most likely scenario is that the order for the money laundering service was not fulfilled by the contracted party who disappeared with the cryptocurrencies without leaving a trace. According to Detective Stuart Mills of the New Zealand National Police's Organized Crime Fighting Group, the offense was part of “a broader fraud targeting bitcoin wallets” and that the criminals were likely from abroad. “The police are committed to learning from this incident and introducing stronger processes so that it doesn't happen again,” the detective told the publication.

In search of those responsible

Inspector Mills confirmed that senior officers had authorized the operation in accordance with standard police procedure and that, at first, no improper conduct by the team was found. However, an internal audit identified that some procedural gaps failed to protect funds held by authorities. The detective who was responsible for the case became the target of a criminal investigation by the police to investigate his actions and why the operation failed. After the incident, authorities also committed to reviewing local police policies and proposing new proposals that are already under consideration.

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