Friday, 07 August 2020

Kidnap, cannabis and cryptocurrency - the astonishing Surrey crime story

Operation Florida could be straight out of CSI Miami, but the tale of an alleged kidnapping, a cannabis factory and more than a million pounds of cryptocurrency all took place within leafy Surrey.
On 8th April 2017 a phone call from a member of the public would set into motion an extraordinary chain of events, culminating in a UK police first.

The phone call in question was a report of having seen a man being bundled into a car outside a property in Virginia Water, the quiet commuter town which is home to less than 6,000 people.

Officers then received a second call, this time from a woman who believed her partner had been kidnapped and was in danger. Police initiated a covert response.

They arrived at the address where he was taken from and unexpectedly discovered a vast and sophisticated cannabis factory, but no sign of the man.

On the morning after the night before, investigators were informed by the man's partner that he was safe and well, and was actually with his father-in-law.

By now the alleged kidnap victim had been identified as Seregjs Teresko, a 31-year-old Latvian living in Cobham, but despite discovering £220,000, €30,000 and 14,000 Thai baht (all in cash) at his home, Teresko was still nowhere to be seen.

Teresko then got in touch with police. He told them he was fine and had not been kidnapped, instead he had been out drinking and the cause of his apparent facial injuries was falling over a barrier.

Following the bizarre debrief in which he, as is still the case, had provided no details of what had happened in relation to the kidnapping reports, Teresko was arrested on suspicion of cannabis cultivation and money laundering.

A second search of his home following his arrest unearthed credit cards and identity cards with varying details, computer equipment, expensive watches and a KeepKey device (a hardware device used for storing cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin).

Enquiries led to additional searches which discovered a safety deposit box containing more cash, gem stones and gold bars, while a storage facility contained ventilation and lighting equipment consistent with being used to operate a cannabis factory.

Attention then turned to the KeepKey device. It held two Bitcoin wallets, but whatever was in them, if anything, remained unknown.

Having obtained a warrant, the investigation team opened the first wallet. Nothing. Fearing the worst they moved onto the second, which contained 295 Bitcoins.

Not knowing what that meant Detective Inspector Matthew Durkin, senior investigating officer on the case, recalls his response to the already ashen faced officers briefing him on the discovery.

"So what?"

He added: "As far as I was concerned 295 Bitcoins could have been 25p's worth."

Learning that at that time it was equivalent to $1.2m (approximately £900,000), the race was on to secure it and, by moving it into a wallet under the full control of Surrey Police, they became the first force in the UK to seize cryptocurrency under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Teresko pleaded guilty to money laundering, possession of articles for use in fraud and cultivation of cannabis at Kingston Crown Court in October 2017.

He was sentenced to nine years and three months behind bars.

After his conviction police successfully confiscated nearly £1.5m worth of assets, including almost £1.25m from the recovered Bitcoin.

In addition to the cash that was seized from his home, Teresko was made to forfeit a total of more than £1.6m. From that amount just over £64,000 was used to compensate repairs to the house where he setup the cannabis factory, which he had done in a rented property, unbeknown to the landlord.

Looking back on the investigation, inspector Durkin said: “This is a ground-breaking, innovative achievement and we are very pleased to be the first UK police force to have achieved this.

“I hope this sends a clear message to criminals using Bitcoin to fund illegal activities; it’s not as anonymous as you think, we are able to trace you and we will prosecute."

From the recovered Bitcoin police had also been able to link transactions to the so called "dark web" where a black market exists for illicit items such as cannabis.

Despite the widespread legitimate use of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the fact it can be hard to trace makes it popular among criminals, but what Surrey Police have proved in this historic case is it can be done.

Legal disclaimer: The insight, recommendations and analysis presented here are based on corporate filings, current events, interviews, corporate press releases, and what we've learned as financial journalists. They are presented for the purposes of general information only, and all the information belongs to the original publishers. These may contain errors and we make no promises as to the accuracy or usefulness of the information we present. You should not make any investment decision based solely on what you read here.

Creamcoin Marketcap