Bengaluru police on Thursday sought permission from a local court to send hacker Srikrishna Ramesh alias Sriki’s laptops for forensic examination.
Even though Karnataka chief minister had denied any scandal in the cryptocurrency hacking case involving Srikrishna, police have sent four of Ramesh’s laptops to Forensic Sciences Lab (FSL) in Bengaluru. According to police, these laptops were seized following Srikrishna’s arrest on Monday from a five star hotel on charges of consumption of drugs.
The development comes as the Congress has been accusing the BJP government of trying to cover up the case and on the day chief minister Basavaraj Bommai met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A day after the Congress levelled allegations on links between hacker Srikrishna Ramesh and BJP leaders in the alleged Bitcoin scandal, senior officers of the Bengaluru police rebutted the claims. Presenting their versions of the investigation, two senior police officers of Bengaluru police said that several claims made by the hacker couldn’t be verified during the investigation, which is being highlighted by the Opposition.
The hacker in question, Srikrishna, was arrested by the Central Crime Branch (CCB) police on November 18, 2020, in a drug peddling case. He had bought drugs from international dealers using Bitcoins on the dark web. In the interrogation that followed, CCB found that the software engineer was also involved in a series of online crimes. He confessed to hacking and stealing from three Bitcoin exchanges, 14 company websites, including 10 poker websites, and a government portal.
The Opposition had raised several questions about the investigation, especially about police not disclosing information about Srikrishna’s involvement in hacking incidents in the past, one of them being the 2016 hacking of Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange. During his interrogation, Srikrishna confessed to being part of a group of hackers that broke into a cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex on August 2, 2016. These hackers collectively stole 120,000 Bitcoins, worth around $72 million.
This case has caught the attention of the international enforcement agencies and India was flagged about the development as well, police officials said. The Opposition has alleged that the Karnataka government withheld this information from the central agencies. “The hacker had hacked into three Bitcoin exchanges, 14 websites, including 10 poker websites, and exploited malware. The total of which is speculated to be around ₹2,283 crore but it is not disclosed. Why was this not informed to more competent authorities?” questioned Priyank Kharge, Congress legislator and former information technology minister.
He went on to add that even though police claimed they had seized Bitcoins from the hacker, they were not produced before the court. “My questions are simple. Where are the Bitcoins seized from the hacker Sriki? Why was the mention of seized 31 Bitcoins of ₹9 crore left out of the charge sheet? Why was a hacker granted bail by police after claiming to have hacked government websites?” asked Kharge.
Responding to the allegation, a senior Bengaluru police officer, who didn’t want to be named, said that although Srikrishna had told police about his involvement, it could not be corroborated. “Yes, in his voluntary statement (copy of which is available with HT), Sriki has claimed a lot of things including being part of the Bitfinex hacking. In his statement, he talks about Runscape.com, Bitcointalk.org etc. Bitfinex was one of those companies he mentioned. We were not able to verify this information, so it was not communicated. We were trying to get more evidence,” said the officer.
He added that police could only find evidence of his involvement in the hacking of some poker companies and the government portal.
Responding to allegations about the ‘missing Bitcoins’, the officer admitted the police department did announce the seizure of the ₹9 crore worth of Bitcoins from Srikrishna. “He had done an evidence collection in the presence of two experts, where Srikrishna showed a Bitcoin account with 31 Bitcoins in it. With the help of experts, he had changed the login details of the account and considered it as seized. However, several days later we realised the seized account didn’t belong to Sriki. We have submitted all these details before the court also. I don’t understand why there is a controversy over this,” said the officer.