Two days ago, about $1 billion worth of bitcoin that had sat dormant since the seizure of the Silk Road marketplace in 2013, one of the biggest underground drug websites on the dark web, suddenly changed hands.
Who took it? Mystery over. It was the U.S. government.
In a statement Thursday, the Justice Department confirmed it had seized the 70,000 bitcoins generated in revenue from drug sales on the Silk Web marketplace from a hacker, known as “Individual X,” who moved the cryptocurrency from Silk Road into a wallet the hacker controlled.
The filing said that the identity of Individual X “is known to the government.”
At the time of the seizure on Tuesday, the bitcoin was worth more than $1 billion.
“Silk Road was the most notorious online criminal marketplace of its day. The successful prosecution of Silk Road’s founder in 2015 left open a billion-dollar question. Where did the money go? Today’s forfeiture complaint answers this open question at least in part,” said U.S. Attorney David Anderson in remarks.
“$1 billion of these criminal proceeds are now in the United States’ possession,” he said.
Silk Road was for a time the “most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet,” per the Justice Department statement. In 2013, its founder and administrator Ross Ulbricht was arrested and the site seized. Ulbricht was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to two life terms and an additional 40 years, for his role in the operation. Prosecutors said the site had close to 13,000 listings for drugs and other illegal services, and generated millions of bitcoin.
The Justice Department said Thursday that the seized bitcoin would be subject to forfeiture proceedings.