As we have learned from the collapse of FTX, the crypto space is not shy of company bankruptcies and criminal activities. But what exactly happens to crypto seized by the government? As smart investors, it is helpful to know how crypto forfeiture laws work, as crypto regulations are on the rise.
What are Forefeited Crypto Assets?
The term “frozen, seized or forfeited” in the legal field refers to the state of an asset, including cryptocurrencies. When law enforcement seizes these assets, they are frozen at a specific address. If the government claims ownership of the seized cryptocurrencies, they are considered forfeited.
The process of “crypto asset realization and legal forfeiture” enables the government to confiscate digital assets for law enforcement purposes by identifying, separating and seizing virtual currencies. With numerous reports of seized assets as well as warnings from leading regulators about digital assets, it is becoming increasingly evident that regulation of cryptocurrency is necessary, but currently in a state of uncertainty.
How Crypto Exchanges Approach Suspicious Transactions
Most crypto exchanges have compliance tools to monitor transactions and meet regulatory requirements. Suspicious activity may be detected based on the structure of the transactions, movement of value, or if the source or destination of funds is illegal.
When a user engages in suspicious activity, the exchange will first request an explanation from the user, and temporarily limit their ability to transfer funds. Since crypto exchanges are centralized entities, they have the power to freeze the user’s funds or ban the user from the platform if they do not meet legal requirements.
The actions taken will depend on the level of risk posed by the transaction, the user’s response, the user’s previous behavior, and the exchange’s regulatory obligations. Using KYC/AML procedures in place, the exchange will then file a report to law enforcement agencies or financial authorities — in the case of U.S., that would be the Financial Crimes Enforecement Network (FinCEN).
What Happens to Crypto Seized in Criminal Investigations?
Once a strong case has been built against a suspect, financial authorities and law enforcement agencies may work with the crypto exchange holding the suspect’s digital assets to either transfer them to a government-controlled wallet or freeze them indefinitely. Sometimes, the assets stay in the suspect’s personal wallet and they may surrender the funds in exchange for a reduced sentence.
The seized cryptocurrencies are usually kept in this manner until a court decision is made. If the defendant is found not guilty, the assets are returned, but if they are convicted, the forfeiture of the assets is part of their sentence. If a conviction occurs, another process is initiated to determine any third-party ownership of the assets that the government aims to seize.
Once all ownership interests have been addressed, the remaining funds are sold for fiat currency and distributed among the agencies involved in the case. The funds are usually used for compensating identified victims or going to government treasuries. This process altogether may lead to a dump on the market, depending on the size of the assets being sold.