Thai underworld resorts to cryptocurrency

By BERNAMA / Pic By BLOOMBERG

Wary of the underworld’s increasing use of cryptocurrency such as bitcoin to cover its money trail, Thai authorities have begun focusing more on the dark web of digital currency as its popularity among criminals soars.

Realising the danger posed by hard-to-detect cryptocurrency to law enforcement, the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) has begun training its men on digital currency and the probable impact it can have in the fight against drug syndicates.

“If all drug traders shift to using bitcoin for drug dealing, our work to detect their money transaction will (only) become harder. We do not have much knowledge about bitcoin at the moment, so it is very challenging for us,” NSB chief Lt Gen Sommai Kongvisaisuk told Bernama in Bangkok recently.

Prior to this, the NSB, according to him, has only faced one case involving the use of cryptocurrency, but anticipates more local drug syndicates following in the footsteps of their international counterparts in embracing the use of bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Kongvisaisuk noted the lone case of drugs and bitcoin in Thailand involved a Canadian man, but declined to elaborate.

Despite the snail-pace embrace by drug syndicates in Thailand on the use of cryptocurrency, the same cannot be said about callcentre scam criminals who have happily adopted the digital currency and made it part of their modus operandi.

According to the Royal Thai Police, the call-centre scam syndicates have invested at least 90% of the money siphoned from victims into bitcoin.

“Since Dec 8 last year, up till now, we found that at least 90% (of the victims’ money from the scam activities) went into bitcoin or 20 million baht (RM2.6 million) at the moment,” said General Thanisak Teerasawat recently.

Investment in bitcoin, he said, was part of an effort by the call-centre scam syndicates to launder the victims’ money and avoid detection by the authorities.

Teerasawat, who heads the country’s task force on electronic fraud, had earlier chaired a meeting between the police, Commerce Ministry, Anti-Money Laundering Office and five bitcoin trading companies.

The bitcoin trading companies gave good cooperation to the authorities in their effort to trace the money trail left by suspected members of the call-centre scam syndicates and recover the victims’ money which had been invested in bitcoin, he said.

Meanwhile, the country’s central bank, Bank of Thailand, last week had asked financial institutions not to get involved in cryptocurrency transactions.

It said cryptocurrencies are not legal tender in Thailand and could be used in illegal activities such as money laundering or supporting terrorism.