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Crypto-crimewave forces police online to pursue ill-gotten assets | Cryptocurrencies

In July 2021, specialist police officers in Manchester swooped on an international cryptocurrency scam, seizing USB sticks and an online safe containing £16m worth of digital coins, mostly ethereum.

A month earlier, Leicestershire police had confiscated 10 types of cryptocurrency after raiding the home of a drug dealer who used digital assets to buy and sell class A drugs.

Both operations pale in comparison to the Metropolitan police’s record crypto haul of the same year, worth £180m. But all three, and many more besides, are part of a spreading crypto-crimewave laid bare today by a series of freedom of information requests.

The Observer requested data from the 45 regional police services in the UK asking for a breakdown of cryptocurrency seizures since 2017. The information sent back by the 27 forces that responded reveals a big shift: there has been a significant increase in the number of raids, and a proliferation in the types of digital coin criminals are using to invest the proceeds of their activities.

More than half of the forces that responded seized crypto-assets during 2021, confiscating or restricting access to 22 different types of digital currency. This was a significant increase on 2020, when four types of crypto were seized, by eight police services. The figure was even lower in 2019, when only two types of digital currency were seized.

While the best-known digital currencies, such as bitcoin and ethereum, featured more than any others, the figures reveal the increasing popularity among convicted and suspected criminals of much less well known rivals.

“Bitcoin is still key: it’s digital gold,” says Gurvais Grigg, who spent 23 years with the FBI and now works as chief technology officer for the data consultancy Chainalysis, which helps private companies and law enforcement bodies trace the movement of cryptocurrencies. “You’ve seen this emergence of ethereum, ‘stablecoins’ [cryptocurrencies pinned to a real-world asset] and a much more diverse market. As a result you’re going to find more of those currencies in the pockets of criminals, because they’re taking them from people.”

In the Leicestershire case, police emerged with assets including Enjin Coin, Polkadot, Neo and even Chiliz, the crypto-tokens sold to football fans to enable them to access perks and vote on decisions at their clubs.

In Wales, the South Wales Regional Organised Crime Unit seized eight crypto-assets, including one called Cake, while its counterpart in the south-west confiscated seven, including the Luxury Coin.

“It’s an emerging field that’s come at us like a tidal wave, and policing has to adapt with the times,” says Phil Ariss, who coordinates the national police response to crypto-crime.

“It’s a big learning curve, but we’re doing well.”

He says 300 police officers have been trained in crypto, with hundreds more due to receive instruction. But the scope of the challenge is even greater than outlined by the Observer’s freedom of information requests.

While some services haven’t made seizures themselves, “most are involved in investigations”, he says, with officers working on cases featuring between 35 and 40 types of coin.

“It’s not just investments and theft, in some extreme cases it’s terrorism financing. It can be purchasing of child abuse images, money laundering. We’re seeing a huge span of cases across law enforcement,” he says.

Most police services don’t disclose the amount of cryptocurrency involved, for fear that other bad actors, armed with such granular detail, could spot when seizures had taken place. Leicestershire police said it might give them “forewarning” of an investigation that could affect them, allowing them to take steps to hide ill-gotten gains.

However, Dyfed-Powys police, which patrols a mostly rural area in which Llanelli is the largest town, told the Observer it had taken possession of 82 bitcoins in 2021, with a value of £2.5m at the most recent price.

When the police do confiscate such digital assets, they are not well equipped to store them themselves. Instead, Avon and Somerset police explains, they contract that job out, storing the bounty “in a secure wallet with a third party provider”.

Matt Damon appearing in a Crypto.com advertisement.
Big name: Matt Damon appearing in a Crypto.com advertisement.

They decline to name the companies involved, citing security reasons; there is a danger of workers at crypto-exchanges being targeted. In 2017, Pavel Lerner, a UK-based exchange employee, was abducted by gun-toting men wearing balaclavas in Ukraine. He was only released after a ransom was paid. Every police service that responded to the FoI requests referred to this case as a reason why they would not disclose holders of seized cryptocurrencies.

“The above incident is not the only one of its kind,” Avon and Somerset police says. “As such, providing information to the wider public about the volume of assets stored and where they are stored increases the risk of cyber-attacks, insider threat and other hostile actions by those who may wish to infiltrate either the supplier or law enforcement.”

In theory, the growing attraction of cryptocurrency to criminals is obvious. Large amounts of money can be sent across borders quickly, into jurisdictions that do not necessarily cooperate with UK law enforcement.

According to Grigg, though, criminals should not get overconfident. Transactions that take place on the blockchain are, by their nature, logged. That means, with the right time and resources, they can be traced, and perpetrators apprehended, long after crimes have been committed.

On the dark web, mixing services are available that allow criminals to launder their crypto, blending it with other types of assets to scatter the paper trail and throw investigators off their tail.

But Grigg says that determined, well resourced investigators can still get there in the end. “Tracing tools have got better and data availability is better,” he says.

The growing number of seizures in the UK is not just a reflection of more crime, he says, but of the growing ability of police officers to stop it. In addition, he points out, the legitimate crypto market has grown faster than the volume of crime-related transactions has. Illicit crypto addresses received $14bn during 2021, according to Chainalysis – a record sum, but an all-time low in terms of share of total volume, at just 0.15%.

Yet as long as the crypto world is expanding rapidly, the challenge for law enforcement will grow alongside it.

A separate freedom of information disclosure, shared with the Observer, reveals a significant increase in reports of crypto-related fraud last year. There were 9,607 such reports made to the national reporting hotline Action Fraud last year, according to the City of London police, up from 5,581 the year before and 3,558 in 2019. Victims, who were disproportionately likely to be under 35 and male, flagged financial losses of more than £200m.

David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain, says more crypto equals more crime. “More people are using the stuff,” he says. “There are minor coins, known as ‘shitcoins’, for everything these days.

“There will be a lot more scams because more people are promoting it. Times are tough, people are worried, so they’re prey to false hope and get-rich-quick schemes.”

But Ariss points out that the greater the public’s interest in crypto, the greater also the awareness and understanding among the police officers trying to prevent ordinary people from becoming victims.

“The [expansion] of crypto in the consciousness of the wider public also affects police officers. You only have to go on the tube and you see ads; crypto companies are sponsoring sports teams. On Crypto.com you’ve got Matt Damon endorsing it.

“There’s an awareness that permeates, and in some ways the challenge [of training officers] is easier now than it ever has been.”

Ariss says British police are keeping pace, so far.

“We’re in a good place compared to some partners in international law enforcement.

“The wheels of justice turn slowly so some of those good news stories haven’t come out yet, but time will show we’re doing a very good job.”

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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