Prosecutors and private attorneys have filed charges against seven individuals in Iceland in the ongoing investigation of the “Big Bitcoin Heist.” Modern Consensus has exclusively obtained signed documentation from the courthouse and consulted with Icelandic legal experts. What we found is astonishing.
First, a quick recap: Police in Iceland have been putting together clues to a string of burglaries in Iceland centering around cryptocurrency mining components during the December 2017 bitcoin peak. In Iceland, more electricity is used in bitcoin mining than in all Icelandic homes combined. Over $2 million in equipment was reported stolen. Later, in a move straight out of a Hollywood thriller, prime suspect Sindri Thor Steffanson broke out of prison and escaped on the prime minister’s plane. He was later captured in Amsterdam.
Sindri is one of seven people named on the charge sheet for ten separate counts including theft, drug and weapons possession. The charges include two more failed heist attempts.
This is turning into a much bigger crime than earlier reported. Previous reports only mentioned that a large number of computers were stolen. This entire sheet of charges lays out a much larger, “Ocean’s 11”-style plot.
December 5, 2017: Price of 1 bitcoin = $11,867
Prosecutors say that on December 5, 2017, three men began a string of thefts at 10:20 p.m. that lasted until 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Sindra Thor, Matthíasi Jóni, and Peter Stanislav were able to break into the data centers at Algrim Consulting and steal about 100 mining rigs. They later attempted to break into BDC Mining, but were thwarted by an alarm.
December 6, 2017: 1 bitcoin = $14,478
The police did not originally report the next break-in. But over the next week, Sindra Thór and the other two men repeatedly attempted another burglary at BDC Mines in Ásbrú. On December 7, bitcoin prices hit a then-all time high of $16,361. There are many other data centers but for some reason, they keep going after BDC over and over. No one knows why they gave up after December 10 but on that day, bitcoin bottomed out at $13, 739. The following day, Bert Ely of Ely Capital calls bitcoin a “ponzi scheme.”
December 15, 2017: 1 bitcoin = $17,275
With the price of bitcoin at another all-time high, Sindra Thor, Matthíasi Jóni, and Peter Stanislav bring on a new crew member named Viktori Inga. They break into the AVK data center in Borgarnes, near the capital, and make off with only 28 Bitmain miners worth $60,000. Police estimate the damages caused by the break-in were twice as costly as what they stole. Officials estimate the cost of theft and damages to be $186,150.15. The next week bitcoin reaches its all time high of $20,042.
December 22, 2017: 1 bitcoin = $11,885
Bitcoin crashes to $11,885, erasing its massive gains from when they started. There are no more attempted break-ins reported at BDC Mines. Police keep searching for the stolen equipment. If the team had any expenses to cover or pay offs to make: bitcoin mining just became half as profitable in a week.
December 26, 2017: 1 bitcoin = $15,519
Fresh from the Christmas holiday, a new interest in bitcoin surges the price back up. That night, Sindra Thor, Matthíasi Jóni, and Peter Stanislav return to BDC Mines and this time, one of them actually manages to break into the building. “But the accused disappeared when the anti-theft system started.” All three get away.
January 16, 2018: 1 bitcoin = $12,324
Now we get into action film territory. The original team gets back together to return to Ásbrú. By now, the alleged criminals were responsible for $574,804.72 in theft and damages. They could just disappear and start a bitcoin mine someplace. But this time instead of raiding nearby BDC Mines for the sixth time, they head for the big score next door: Advania.
If Vegas is Danny Ocean’s playground, Ásbrú is Sindrí’s own raidable vault. The former U.S. Naval Air Station has now become a business incubator and the largest University campus in Iceland. It’s teaming with startups and students. Sindra Thor, Matthíasi Jóni, and Peter Stanislav had a leg up this time. He brought the entire team in, including Ívar, Hafþór Loga, and Viktor Inga (from the successful December 15 heist). Their inside man—a guard listed only as “Deputy”—gave the team information about the layout and even a security code to disable the security system from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. In that time, they made off with the biggest haul: 225 complete mining rigs.
That is a striking amount; more than you could even fit into a van, possibly more than even a box truck. The massive haul took hours just to load. Prosecutors allege that Sindra Thor, Matthíasi Jóni, and Peter Stanislav loaded the gear out wearing official security guard uniforms.
February 1, 2018: 1 bitcoin = $9,126
Police arrest Peter Stanislav in his home for his part in the string of robberies. Bitcoin is now worth less than when they started. Police say they found 14.34 g of cocaine in his home. Police also arrest nearby Matthías Jón on charges of conspiracy for the January 16 heist. Prosecutors charge him with armed robbery after they recovered an unregistered “electric shock gun” from his car. The charge does not accuse Matthías Jón of any specific bodily harm against any security guard in any of the charges but with Icelandic weapons laws, mere possession might be enough. This also gives him a reason to “flip” on the others if he has any information.
Altogether, prosecutors accuse the seven suspects of $871,819.21 in stolen property. Private lawyers for the three different mining companies will also “piggyback” $845,566.91 in damages—almost the same amount—for a total of USD$1,715,513.31 or about 325 completely functional mining rigs.
Interestingly, the charge sheet does not make a very credible claim against any loss of bitcoin. If they’d actually pulled this off and 200 to 600 rigs were running for nine months straight on Iceland’s cheap geothermal electricity, they could have mined some serious coin.
It’s also worth mentioning that this crime went down from November to December, when bitcoin surged past an all-time-high of $10,000 and then doubled from there in a month. The crime they are alleged to have committed (stealing bitcoin machines to print their own $20,000 coins) is not the crime they are living with today. The new Antminers that are shipping next month are four times as fast for half the price. If this crime happened today, that cost would have been $50,000 in stolen goods and from that, you’d be lucky to get $7,000 per bitcoin.
Earlier this year we spoke to Plattsburgh Mines, a similarly remote operation in the US that runs on cheap renewable energy. “I don’t hold the coins, I just sell them as they come in,” CEO David Goodman told Modern Consensus by phone.
Nothing can really excuse a crime, but anyone caught up in the crypto-mania from December 2017 can tell you that they weren’t thinking straight. People weren’t investing or speculating: they were straight up gambling, throwing down money on something that they barely understood because it gave them a little bit of a rush. Companies like Coinbase made buying bitcoin as easy as getting a book from Amazon
If convicted they will likely get hit with multiple prison sentences. Tack on the conspiracy, drugs, and weapons charges and they are looking at some hard time.
However, let’s say they had the mining rigs running. They earned enough to pay back the $871,819.21 in theft and $845,566.91 in damages. Maybe there’s someone out there with deep pockets who doesn’t want to go to jail. Then could they walk away? “Damages are a private case, just piggybacking along,” our justice source told us. “Iceland does not offer punitive damages. The prosecution is only prosecuting for the crimes, so if found guilty there will be jail time. Even if they had already paid the damages there would still be a criminal prosecution.”
For now there will be no jury. This case will go before one to three judges (five in exceptional cases). However, the defense can file a motion to have the case dismissed, but that rarely has any effect. “Icelandic prosecutors don’t prosecute unless there is around a 99% chance that the defendant will be found guilty.”
EXTRA! We translate from Icelandic and explain the 10 charges:
Count 1: Theft
Sindrí Thor, Matthíasi Jóni, and Peter Stanislav are accused of “a massive theft, including planning, preparing and carrying out a burglary into Algrim Consulting on 5 December and BDC Mining.” The stolen mining computers, and components, were worth $388,569.49 in total.
Count 2: Conspiracy
Sindra Thor, Matthíasi Jóni, and Peter Stanislav for the attempted “massive theft, by jointly preparing, hiring and organizing burglary and theft of data BDC Mining Ltd.” from December 5, 2017 to 10 December 2017.
Count 3: Burglary
For the successful heist on December 15, 2017 at AVK in Borgarnes (outside Reykjavik), stealing computers and components worth USD$54,936.63 and causing damage so in total the damage is estimated at $131,298.60. An Icelandic legal expert also noted that prosecutors work in tandem with private lawyers to seek damages for the same crime.
Icelandic courts are used to serve the people, not tie them up in court. In this case if they plead guilty to all charges they will also be liable for the damages brought by a private lawyer. “Private attorneys lay the claims to the district commissioners and then it is processed there just like bankruptcy,” our Icelandic justice expert explained. “Or the guilty parties just pay the damages, then there are no more legal proceedings. But that eventuality is highly unlikely.”
Count 4: The previously unreported attempted heist
Fourth count is against Sindra Thor, Matthíasi Jóni, and Viktori Inga for a previously unreported attempt at burglary into BDC Mining on December 26, 2017. Suspects abandoned the alleged heist after an alarm went off.
Count 5: Where they got greedy
By now the alleged criminals were responsible for $574,804.72 in theft and damages. They could have just disappeared and started a bitcoin mine someplace. At the time bitcoin topped $20,000. But the fifth count is for planning, preparing, and carrying out a burglary at the technology company Advania on 16 January, stealing computers and components worth $428,313.10 and unspecified damages of $714,268.30.
Count 6: The Man on the inside and the disguises
This count is only against “the Deputy”—the inside man who allegedly provided security access codes and uniforms.
Count 7: The second conspiracy
This count charges “Viktori Inga and Hafþóri Loga, mainly for large-scale theft, for jointly and in cooperation with the accused Sindra Thor, Matthías Jón, Pétur Stanislav and Ívar.” The first two criminals are considered responsible for the entire January 16, 2018 heist. That is 225 Antminer S9 14 Th/s computers (worth $4,588 today new) and the beastly Bitmain 1600W power supply. Note: this power modification makes it so that you can run on traditional outlets at home (think: not the big plug for a refrigerator or space heater that a commercial data center might have).
Count 8: Their connection
The eighth count is against Kjartan Sveinarsson, for being an accomplice, connecting Ívar to the security guard, and communicating with the other guys in order to plan a burglary. Prosecutors in Iceland don’t lay out their evidence until they go before a judge but this count lays out the possibility that police were monitoring the suspects after the first heist. Or they likely were able to get some information from his phone records or messages.
Count 9: Of course there is cocaine involved
Very early on in our reporting of this case, Modern Consensus spoke with an Icelander familiar with the Reykjavik underworld. She said, “Iceland is so small. I doubt they will get away with it. All the scummy people here know each other and one of them is bound to screw up.”
Prosecutors controversially included the ninth count on Peter Stanislav for drug trafficking. Iceland uses the metric system but 14.35 grams just happens to be exactly .5 oz. Or 15 of the little baggies that you’d see in a street crime movies.
Anyone entering Peter Stanislav’s home between the robbery and the police search could have hidden that amount of drugs in their pants pocket and left them there to be found. But it does give prosecutors the ability to apply special pressure on Stanislav—who is named in eight of the 10 counts—to “flip.”
Count 10: The stun gun
Also following the February 1 raid: prosecutors are charging Matthías Jón with armed robbery after they recovered a “electric shock gun” from his car. Matthiasi Jóni is mentioned in nine of the ten charges (basically everything but the cocaine). The charge does not accuse Matthías Jóni of any specific bodily harm against any security guards. But with Icelandic weapons laws, possession might be enough. This also gives him a reason to “flip” on the others if he has any information.
It is critical to note that charges did not mention the taser was found “In a search of his car outside the Hverfisgata police station.” There is no evidence that the taser was planted in the car after he was arrested. But Icelandic law is careful to point out that the car was already at the police station when it was found.
Note: For the sake of clarity, Modern Consensus has conformed Icelandic spelling to English (e.g. the suspect’s full name is Sindra Þór Stefansson, he is referred to as Sindri Thor throrought). Icelandic surnames are patronymic and therefore do not signify the same as an English surname. We’ve also transliterated any Icelandic alphabet capital Þ and lowercase ð to “th” as in “Thor.” All U.S. dollar amounts have been converted from Icelandic Kronur (ISK) at the rate it would have traded on the day of the charge sheet.