A British county police force has become the first in the country to seize and exchange bitcoins discovered during a criminal investigation.
According to a report from the Financial Times yesterday, the Surrey police force obtained 295 bitcoins last October after arresting a Latvian man called Seregjs Teresko, who has since been convicted for money laundering and sentenced to nine years in prison.
The force further sold the assets for around $1.5 million following a court hearing at the time. Back then, the price of a bitcoin was around $5,000, but shot up to its all-time high of around $20,000 just two months later.
A local court ruled on Thursday that the Surrey police force is entitled to confiscate the bitcoins seized from Teresko, the FT says. The force is further allowed to keep 18.8 percent of the proceeds – approximately £273,000 – that will go towards its operational budget.
The report describes how, after obtaining the money launderer’s private key to the bitcoin holdings, the police force subsequently set up its own digital wallet and reportedly used an overseas cryptocurrency exchange to liquidate the assets.
The news comes as a time when law enforcement agencies in the U.K. are beefing up their knowledge about cryptocurrency in an effort to better investigate crimes that involve the technology, as well as to more easily seize such assets.
Last year, a research office backed by a group of U.K. law enforcement groups proposed changing the country’s laws to make seizing bitcoin easier. The N8 Policing Research Partnership said at the time it aimed to increase institutional knowledge about cryptocurrency among British police officials via a broad training initiative.