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Bitcoin Ransoms Are Becoming More Popular in Kidnappings

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:45 PM
Justin OConnell
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:45 PM

Two different kidnappings in two different parts of the world have taken the world of illicit Bitcoin activities to a new level. Long discussed as the currency of the Silk Road, the online drug marketplace only accessible via Tor, it appears a new, more violent criminal is turning towards the digital currency to get away with kidnapping.

The most recent example, the kidnapping of a Hong Kong tycoon once charged with fraud, Wong Kwan. The kidnappers threatened to scrape out the eyeballs or chop off the legs of the Pearl Oriental Oil chairman if his family did not cough up a HK$70 million (approx 30,000 BTC) ransom in bitcoins,  according to Taiwanese police, who saved the 68-year-old on Tuesday night. The kidnapper was found in an abandoned house in Kouhu township, Yunline county, in western Taiwan after 38 days in captivity.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said after his rescue.

When police found him, he was cuffed and blindfolded, wearing a white shirt and shorts while sitting on top of a mattress. Officers thought they had rescued the wrong person as he looked different in photographs due to malnutrition and cigarette burns on his cheeks. 

“You guys are finally here. I am Wong Kwan. Please save me!” he reportedly said.

Wong’s family initially paid just HK$13 million by last Friday’s ransom deadline. Fifteen Taiwanese, including  a village chief, were arrested, though police believe the cross-border kidnapping ring is run from the mainland with the culprits remaining at large.

Cai Wen-li, who works with the well-known United Bamboo Gang, is suspected of masterminding the kidnapping. Charged in a fraud case two years ago, Wong had been granted a HK$500 million bail so he could receive medical treatment in Taiwan only later to be abducted by two men in a vehicle on September 20. Wong’s company soon received emails asking for the ransom. His wife also received emails demanding  HK$70 million with three videos of Wong asking the family to pay and not call the police.

Hong Kong police say they are working closely with overseas law enforcement agencies. Wong was scheduled to appear in High Court yesterday regarding his restraint order. This was changed to December 9.

The case is not the first instance of Bitcoin ransom in a kidnapping case. Ryan Piercy was kidnapped in Costa Rica  on January 20 and held for five weeks chained by the neck to a tree most of the time before being released after partial ransom payments were made. Piercy’s kidnappers had requested tens of thousands of dollars in the untraceable crypto-currency bitcoin.

The case of Piercy’s kidnapping, the former general manager of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica , or ARCR, is among the more bizarre ones in the country with a population of 5 million. Piercy’s kidnappers used the Dark Web to communicate during the kidnapping, sending dozens of pages of messages, threats and demands to several members of Piercy’s family from a taunting email account. Piercy was abducted for five-weeks until partial ransom payments were made via Western Union transfers to numerous countries, such as Egypt, Ukraine and Romania. Go-betweens in each of those countries then converted the cash into bitcoins.

Image from Shutterstock.