German police seize $30M in BTC, BCH connected to pirated movie website

Authorities in Germany had reportedly seized digital currencies worth $30 million in connection with an investigation into the now-shutdown illegal pirated movie streaming site movie2k.to, according to online news publication Spiegel. The Dresden Public Prosecutor’s Office made the announcement, with the support of the State Criminal Police Office of Saxony, and the Leipzig Tax Investigation Department.

The website was forced to close in spring 2013 due to copyright infringement concerns. It functioned as a user-contributed video directory for movies and television programs that allowed users to download pirated content. Motion Picture Association of America successfully sued to block access in the U.K. court.  

Authorities assert the German website’s two chief operators distributed over 880,000 pirated copies of films and TV series, together with their accomplices, via the website between autumn 2008 to May 2013. Authorities have charged them with operating an illegal streaming service, which enabled users to watch pirated films without downloading them.

One of the two alleged masterminds, who worked as the site’s programmer, has been in police custody since November 2019. Authorities said the suspect has agreed to forfeit over €25 million (US$29.6 million) worth of BTC and BCH, and will aid law enforcement authorities in further investigations against the second alleged operator, who is still running from police over the cybercrimes. 

The pirate movie portal generated revenue through advertising fees and subscriptions traps, which later was funneled into digital currencies, investigators said. Subscription traps refer to when an unwitting user signs up for a service but later finds it nearly impossible to cancel.

The suspect in custody claims to have purchased over 22,000 BTC from his ill-gotten gains. Reports allege him to have further used the proceeds from this illegal enterprise to purchase various real estate properties from the fall of 2013 to mid-2016 via a Berlin real estate company.

The programmer is also reportedly under investigation for commercial money laundering connected with his activities as a real estate entrepreneur. He gave up the multi-million dollars worth of seized digital currencies during his interrogation as part of the damage reparation.  

The digital currency’s identification was a joint effort carried out by a forensic expert based on extensive investigations in cooperation with the Federal Criminal Police Office and the FBI. The investigation further shows how BTC has become the de facto darknet currency and currency for nefarious causes.

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