One of Australia’s leading policing agencies, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), has launched an investigation into crypto currencies and their link with organised crime.
According to a Reuters report, the official operation named ‘Project Longstrike’ will be monitoring “misuse of virtual currencies to facilitate criminal activity.”
“Organised crime groups continue to make use of darknets to harbour trading in illicit commodities, including child exploitation material, illicit drugs and firearms, stolen credit card and identity data, and hacking techniques,” explained ACC executive director, Judy Lind.
The ACC’s announcement comes at a time of heightened Australian interest in digital currencies, particularly among governmental and financial bodies who are pushing for innovation in the area.
Mastercard is one of a few industry voices who have spoken negatively about the new technology. In a recent inquiry the card giant mentioned the major digital currencies, bitcoin and Ripple, citing that they were volatile and anonymous platforms which facilitate criminal activity and a lack of consumer protection.
Neither is it the first time that the ACC has investigated the technology, with the currencies’ anonymity frequently referred to in its Organized Crime in Australia 2013 report [PDF]:
“The unregulated environment and the anonymity of transactions make currencies such as bitcoin attractive to organised crime for money laundering.”
Bitcoin’s anonymous nature was also discussed in a newspaper interview in June 2013 with former ACC CEO Paul Jevtovic: “The ACC is currently working with partners to explore the bitcoin market and other digital currencies, to better understand its size and criminal threat.”
The country’s first bitcoin cash machine was seized in October this year from a Queensland coffee shop in a drugs raid. 24,500 BTC was also seized at the end of October from Silk Road member, Richard Pollard, by the state of Victoria after he pleaded guilty to commercial drug trafficking.
The ACC, which formed in 2003, is a law enforcement agency “empowered to conduct special investigations and special operations where conventional law enforcement methods are unable or unlikely to be effective.”
These “coercive” powers will allow the agency to summon witnesses related to the crypto probe and compel them to provide evidence, and to seize any relevant media and documents.