The U.S. Justice Department has claimed the proceeds from the sale of 144,336 bitcoins, valued at just over $48 million, that it obtained after shutting down the notorious online drug market Silk Road in 2013.
While the government had already sold the bitcoins in a series of auctions in 2014 and 2015, the creator of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts) had challenged the legality of the forfeiture.
Ulbricht, however, agreed to drop the claims last weeks, according to the office of Joon H. Kim, the Acting U.S. Attorney for Manhattan—meaning the government can now claim the proceeds.
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The $48.2 million total proceeds means the government sold the bitcoins for an average of $334. In retrospect, the sale appears to be a matter of bad timing for the government: the price of a bitcoin was as high as $1,000 at the end of 2013 before the digital currency went into a prolonged slump until mid-2016 when it began to soar. The current price is around $4,400—meaning the Justice Department would have made around $630 million had the sale taken place today.
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Among the beneficiaries of the government’s bitcoin fire sale was venture capitalist Tim Draper, who bought an additional batch of nearly 30,000 bitcoins seized from Silk Road.
The U.S. Attorney’s office did not specify if the proceeds from the seizure will go to the agencies, including the FBI and IRS, that helped bring down Silk Road, or if the money will instead go to the U.S. Treasury. A spokesperson for Koon declined to provide an initial comment, but said he would offer more details soon.
Ulbricht’s decision to challenge the bitcoin seizure came in part because the investigation that brought down Silk Road was marred by two corrupt agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Secret Service, who posed as criminals in order to steal bitcoins.
The corrupt agents did not, however, significantly affect the trial of Ulbricht, who was convicted based on a mountain of evidence, including detailed server and chat records that identified him as the “Dread Pirate Roberts” who built and controlled Silk Road.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the present day value of the bitcoins.
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