By Lee Kyung-min
A total of 191 bitcoins confiscated as proceeds from criminal activity will go into the state coffers, possibly netting the government about 7.6 billion won ($6.9 million) as the value of the digital coin has skyrocketed 15-fold from the time of the seizure about three years ago.
Suwon District Prosecutors' Office currently in possession of the cryptocurrency will decide whether to sell it directly on crypto exchanges or involve the Korea Asset Management Corporation (KAMCO). KAMCO is a quasi-governmental organization that manages state-owned properties, acquires and resolves financial institutions' non-performing loans, restructures businesses and provides credit recovery.
The district office's plan was enabled by the revision of a related law under which digital currencies will be recognized as a virtual asset of economic value and therefore financially tradable and electronically transferrable in the market. The revision will go into effect in March.
The 191 bitcoins were among 216 seized by the district office in May 2017 during an investigation into a man surnamed Ahn who ran AVsnoop.club, a U.S.-based online porn site from December 2013 through 2017. He asked site users to pay membership fees in cryptocurrency.
In a May 2018 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's decision that sentenced him to 18 months in prison and a forfeiture of 191 bitcoins deemed criminal proceeds. He was also ordered to return 690 million won in illicit gains.
The top court ruling followed the indictment of Ahn who was charged with violation of the Child Protection Law for charging fees to site users, about 1.21 million of whom participated in sharing pornographic material online.
The seizure of the digital coins drew enormous public attention in 2017 since it was the first time the law enforcement agencies confiscated the digital coin that had yet to be recognized as a valid asset and was associated mostly with speculation. Also dominant was the view that a digital coin was nothing more than a source of disruption in the financial market enabling money laundering among other claimed corrupt uses.
Whether the amount returned will spike further remains to be seen given the price of bitcoin is continuing its strong upward rally, first breaking the symbolic 40 million won-mark early Thursday.
According to bithumb, a crypto exchange, one bitcoin traded at around 40.85 million won, around 9 a.m., up 10 million won in just 11 days since it first exceeded 30 million won, Dec. 27.