Man pleads guilty to £2m cryptocurrency theft
A man has been convicted of stealing more than £2 million of cryptocurrency in a theft which resulted in people losing their businesses and their inheritances.
Following a five-year investigation by the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) Wybo Wiersma, of Het Weike, Goredijk, the Netherlands, pleaded guilty to theft today (26/1) on the second day of his trial at Oxford Crown Court.
The case centered around the IOTA cryptocurrency, which required users to have an 81 character ‘seed’ made up of capital letters and the number 9, to control their ‘tokens’.
On 19 January 2018 there were numerous reports of the transfer of Iota tokens which had been taken out of the control of Iota owners around the world, without their knowledge and consent – that they had had been stolen.
What the victims of these thefts had in common was that they all used the same website – iotaseed.io – to generate what they believed to be a random string of 81 characters. However these were predetermined, allowing the thefts to take place.
The tokens were transferred to a number of different cryptocurrency trading accounts.
The website was set up by a person calling himself Norbert van den Berg however the investigation established this to be 40-year-old Wybo Wiersma, a Dutch student.
The cryptocurrency stolen was valued at £2,156,000.
SEROCU officers arrested Wiersma at a property in Oxford on 23 January 2019 and seized a number of devices. He was released on bail then subsequently under investigation and moved back to the Netherlands while the investigation continued.
He was extradited on 7 April 2021 and appeared at Oxford Magistrates’ Court the following day.
Senior investigating officer Detective Inspector Rob Bryant, of SEROCU, said: “This was a particularly complex investigation involving more than 100 victims worldwide. Wiserma deprived people of their money which they had invested in cryptocurrency, moving it through a web of trading accounts and causing some to lose businesses and life savings.
“Wiersma has recognised the evidence against him was overwhelming and admitted he was the person responsible for the theft. We will make every effort to ensure that the victims of the offence are reunited with the funds police seized as part of the investigation.
“I would like to thank Hesse State Criminal Police – Cybercrime Investigations, Europol and the Crown Prosecution Service for working closely in collaboration with SEROCU, resulting in the conviction of Wiersma.”
Wiersma was remanded in custody to appear at Oxford Crown Court for sentencing tomorrow (27/1).
For information on how to keep safe online, please view SEROCU’s website.