The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has set up a new unit dedicated to dealing with digital asset crime.
AFP has been cracking down on digital asset money laundering and other related crimes for years. However, these activities have not been coordinated by a single unit, which would make them more effective, AFP Criminal Assets Forfeiture Command Stefan Jerga told the Australian Financial Review.
“The environment was such that we felt we were an autonomous team [was required], rather than many officers learning some of these skills as part of their overall role. So now we have a dedicated team that continues to grow,” Jerga said.
The new unit is in line with similar global developments as more regulators focus on the rapidly growing industry. In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) recently brought in a former police officer to lead its new digital assets unit from October. Earlier this year, the FBI launched the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team, led by longtime prosecutor Eun Young Choi. The SEC also revamped and renamed its Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit, doubling the staff.
The new Australian unit will focus on the seizure of criminal assets, but will also play an important role in other related investigations, Jerga revealed.
“It targets assets, but it also provides that valuable investigative tracing capability and purpose for all of our orders across all of our businesses, whether they are related to national security, child protection, cyber- or the ability to trace cryptocurrency transactions across relevant blockchains is really, really important,” he said.
AFP’s Criminal Asset Forfeiture department has exceeded expectations, seizing more than A$600 million since February 2020. Only a marginal portion of that amount was related to digital assets, but AFP is taking no chances.
The launch of the new unit comes just months after the deputy chief executive of Australia’s financial intelligence agency, AUSTRAC, claimed that criminals were exploiting digital assets to launder money.
John Moss cited figures from Chainalysis which revealed that criminal activity constituted 0.15% of global transaction volumes. This was four times the 0.035% share of transactions on the four largest crime-related banks. However, with Australia’s GDP of $1.8 trillion, the banks’ share, while smaller in proportion, is much larger in actual size.
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