Criminals in Europe are laundering $5.5 billion of illegal cash through cryptocurrency, according to Europol

Bitcoin ATM


A file photograph of a bitcoin ATM in Athens, Greece.

  • Europol director Rob Wainwright warned about a hike in crypto-related crime.
  • He said 4% of all criminal proceeds are now turned into cryptocurrencies.
  • Police have limited means of disrupting crypto transactions, unlike those using traditional finance.
  • Law enforcement across the board is worried about untraceable transactions.

Criminals in Europe are using cryptocurrencies to launder as much as $5.5 billion (£4 billion) in illegal money, according to the head of Europe's policing agency.

Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, estimated that around 4% of all criminal proceeds in Europe are being funnelled through currencies like Bitcoin - and he expects this figure to increase.
Europol's standing estimate for the amount of illicit cash circulating in Europe is around £100 billion, Wainwright said. Using his 4% estimate for the amount funnelled via cryptocurrency gives a figure of £4 billion, or $5.5 billion.

In an interview with the BBC, Wainwright said police find it harder to stop illicit cryptocurrency transfers because they have no way to freeze crypto wallets in the way they could freeze a bank account.

He said: "They [cryptocurrencies] are 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."

Director of Europol Robert Wainwright is seen during a talk at Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech conference, in Lisbon, Portugal, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

Thomson Reuters

Europol Director Rob Wainwright.

He called on the operators of cryptocurrency exchanges to do more to cooperate with police investigations and "develop a better sense of responsibility."Law enforcement officials across the board are increasingly concerned about the use of cryptocurrency by organised criminals.

Last week a drug dealer trader in Wales was convicted to eight years in prison for running a dark web fentanyl store which traded entirely in bitcoin.

London's Metropolitan Police briefed Business Insider and other outlets on the issue last November, and said even low-level drug dealers were using crypto, via a network of physical ATMs.

Bitcoin appears to be the most frequently used currency because of its higher profile. But officials have also voiced concerns about other currencies, like monero, which go to even greater lengths to conceal the identities of those trading in them.

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