Congress seeks CBI or NIA probe in Karnataka bitcoin hacker case, home minister says no international links | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack

US agencies investigating an August 2016 hacking of the Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange where $ 4.5 billion worth of bitcoin was stolen have not referred to any links to India or Karnataka despite claims by a hacker arrested in Bengaluru in November 2020 of involvement in the Bitfinex hacking, Karnataka’s home minister Araga Jnanendra told the state legislative council on Monday.

The Karnataka home minister was responding to a demand from members of the opposition Congress party for an investigation by a central agency into allegations of alleged corruption involving police officers, government officials, and politicians in the form of bribes from the hacker and his associates after their arrest in November 2020.

“American agencies have arrested two US nationals a few days ago and have recovered the entire amount that was hacked from the Bitfinex exchange. The US agencies have not referred to any links to India or Karnataka,” the Karnataka home minister said.

Last month US agencies like a criminal investigation unit of the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, and a Homeland Security Investigation unit reported detection of nearly $ 3.6 billion of the bitcoin stolen from the Bitfinex exchange in 2016 – following investigations against two US nationals Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan and their arrest in New York.

The couple allegedly laundered and held the cryptocurrency stolen by hackers in 2016. The US investigations have found that a set of email IDs used to create accounts at a virtual cryptocurrency exchange – where a portion of the stolen bitcoin was parked after the heist – was generated using India-based email service providers.

Srikrishna Ramesh alias Sriki, 26, a computer hacker arrested by the Bengaluru police in November 2020, for allegedly purchasing drugs on the darknet with bitcoin and of hacking to steal funds and data from online entities – including Rs 11.5 crore from a Karnataka government portal – had earlier claimed involvement in the hacking of the Bitfinex exchange.

On Monday, the Karnataka home minister Araga Jnanendra told the state council that the state police had no clues regarding any involvement of the hacker Srikrishna in international crimes. “Some of the crimes are old and so there may be no evidence. The crimes are from the 2016 period,” the home minister told the assembly.

The bitcoin issue was raised in the council by Congress MLA U B Venkatesh who alleged that the government was not being transparent on investigations against the hacker.

“Indian email ids were used to launder the funds. Let them find out about these things and whether there are links. Why did they use email ids from Indian service providers? Please clarify if you will carry out the probe or hand it over to CBI or NIA?” the Congress MLA said.

“There are VVIPS who are involved in this. Let all their names come out. They should order a probe. This is not an ordinary case. There are IPS officers who are involved, there are big political leaders involved, this has to be probed by another agency,” the Congress leader in the legislative council B K Hariprasad said.

“From the perspective of the dignity of the people of Karnataka and from the perspective of the common man there is a need for a high-level investigation,” Hariprasad said.

The Karnataka home minister said the state government would order a high-level probe if opposition leaders were to provide documents regarding the allegations of corruption.

“We have sent three letters to the Interpol on this issue. On April 28, 2021, on May 5, 2021, and October 28. 2021. We sent letters saying there are claims by this person of hacking into exchanges and to provide us with information if it is available,” the home minister said while stating that there had been no information from Interpol on crimes linked to Srikrishna.

“Please provide details of the India mail used in the crime and we will investigate. We will conduct an inquiry if you give documents,” home minister Jnanendra said.

“I have studied the issue in great detail. It is being projected as a very big issue. I have spoken to many senior officers as well. They are saying that the people who lost money have met the PM but the PM has not said anything on this and there is no document sent on this from the center,” the home minister told the council.

“Why can they not give this case to the CBI? Why are they hesitating when even government funds have been stolen? The behavior of the government is a cause for great suspicion. Let the CM announce that they will seek a CBI probe,” the JDS MLC Marithibbe Gowda said.

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