Europol chief says more than £4bn is laundered through cryptocurrencies

London’s Metropolitan Police claimed bitcoin ATMs are used for laundering

The head of Europol said as much as £4bn (Dh20bn) is currently being laundered through bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
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The head of the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, has told a television programme that as much as £4 billion (Dh20bn) is being laundered through bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Rob Wainwright told the BBC's investigative news programme Panorama of £100bn in illegal money that is in transit between European criminal gangs.

Mr Wainwright said: “It’s growing quite quickly, and we’re quite concerned.

“They’re 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.”

London’s Metropolitan Police claimed that bitcoin ATMs have been used for laundering purposes. Such cash machines can be used to take out £500 (DH2,500) in a single transaction – with more than 70 of them in the British capital alone, it means tens of thousands of pounds can be laundered in a day.

The people using these machines can convert these bitcoins into “clean” cash and it can then enter circulation legitimately. Mr Wainwright said that “billions” of pounds and euros were being converted in this way across Europe.

Mr Wainwright said that the bitcoin industry had to cooperate with enforcement agencies. “They have to take a responsible action and collaborate with us when we are investigating very large-scale crime,” he said. “I think they also have to develop a better sense of responsibility around how they’re running virtual currency.”

He said that Europol has identified that some "money mules" are being forced to cash out, turning bitcoin into currencies in smaller amounts to make it harder for police to track it.

The UK Treasury is planning to introduce laws soon that will apply anti-laundering and counterterrorist financing rules to cryptocurrencies and will ensure that all transactions are transparent, with all parties to deals being revealed. The EU is planning on forcing users of online platforms to reveal more about themselves.