Reuters | By Brett Wolf
ST. LOUIS, May 17 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – U.S. authorities have seized two accounts linked to a major operator in the booming Bitcoin digital currency market, Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox. The move may prevent the firm from facilitating the purchase and sale of Bitcoins in U.S. dollars at a time when use of the currency and its value has mushroomed.
Bitcoin, which unlike conventional money is bought and sold on a peer-to-peer network independent of any central authority, has grown popular among users who lack faith in the established banking system.
The price of the volatile currency ballooned in March as a result of the Cyprus bank crisis. Authorities worry that a lack of regulation has left the currency vulnerable to money launderers and other criminals.
A seizure warrant obtained Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security froze an account that an Iowa-based online payment processor, Dwolla Inc, held at Veridian Credit Union in the name of Mutum Sigillum LLC.
An affidavit filed by an agent with the department’s investigations unit states that Mutum Sigillum, a Mt. Gox subsidiary incorporated in Delaware, was operating as an unlicensed money transmitter, in violation of federal law.
Treasury’s anti-money laundering unit, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), in March issued guidance that dubbed digital currency exchanges money transmitters, a finding that obliged such businesses to register with FinCEN and obtain any mandated state licenses.
A search of FinCEN’s online registration database Friday morning suggested that neither Mt. Gox nor Mutum Sigillum had registered. The affidavit cited Mutum Sigillum’s failure to register with FinCEN as sufficient grounds to seize its accounts.
Both Mutum Sigillum and Mt. Gox, which says it handles 80 percent of Bitcoin trading, are owned by Mark Karpeles, the affidavit states. It adds that Karpeles opened an account in Mutum Sigillum’s name at Wells Fargo in May 2011, and that when doing so completed a form in which he said it was not a money transmitter.
Karpeles did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Dwolla.
The Wells Fargo account was seized earlier this month as part of the same investigation that prompted the seizure of Mutum Sigillum’s Dwolla account at Veridian Credit Union, the affidavit states.
Continue reading at Bitcoin Operator’s Accounts Seized By U.S. Authorities.