News
Buying luxury flats with bitcoin opens door to criminals, warns director of UK’s National Crime Agency
14 Jun 2021

A senior cybercrime officer has warned that luxury flats being sold for bitcoin could be exploited by criminal gangs.

Nigel Leary, a director at the National Crime Agency, said that he had significant concerns about bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies being used for large purchases such as property or private jets.

Leary, deputy director of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said the big-volume cryptocurrency payments were often linked to organised crime and there were not usually enough safeguards for such purchases.

His warning comes after the developer Nick Candy said he would take offers in bitcoin and ethereum for an 18,000 sq ft five-bedroom penthouse on sale for £175 million in the One Hyde Park development in Knightsbridge.

Private jet operators have also been reporting that a growing number of their flights are paid for in bitcoin. The British global operator PrivateFly reported in February that one in ten of its flights were paid for in bitcoin in January, representing 20 per cent of its sales.

However, Leary told The Times: “Anything purchased with crypto assets I’d be slightly sceptical about. I’d like to see why they’re being done in that way and what the requirement is for that anonymity, and why it needed to be done in a crypto transaction.”

Leary did not name the One Hyde Park development specifically and there is no suggestion Nick Candy or PrivateFly would involve themselves in any suspicious transaction. He was speaking generally about property offers being made in cryptocurrency. Candy declined to comment.

Leary said that while there were some moves towards regulation of digital currency exchange there were “questions about how effective that is right now”, and warned that criminals could exploit that situation.

In relation to purchases of big assets such as property, he said: “It’s easier to defraud when it’s all done remotely. It’s not as though I have to turn up at the bank with my passport which, if I’m going to try and do it fraudulently, will take a little bit more preparation than it does to do it online where I can procure myself false identity documents, false bank statements and so on.”

Leary said the use of cryptocurrencies was not suspicious in itself, however, and there were vast amounts of people using them to purchase assets legitimately, but that checks needed to be made on their use until regulation was improved.

By Fiona Hamilton and Tom Knowles, The Times, 12 June 2021

Read more at The Times

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