Icelandic bitcoin heist suspect escapes prison and flees to Sweden

19 Apr 2018

Keflavík airport, Iceland. Image: veesaw/Shutterstock

A major suspect in Iceland’s ‘Big Bitcoin Heist’ escapes from a low-security prison in the country.

In March of this year, it was reported that then-unidentified thieves stole 600 computers used to mine cryptocurrency, with a value pegged at approximately €2m.

The burglaries took place in Iceland in late 2017, with the final heist occurring in January 2018.

One of the suspects, Sindri Thor Stefansson, likely escaped from a low-security prison in southern Iceland on Wednesday (18 April).

The Associated Press reported that Stefansson, the man suspected of being the brains behind the string of robberies, has fled to Sweden.

Swedish police on the lookout

Stefan Dangardt, a spokesperson for the Swedish police, said no arrest had yet been made in the country, but officials had been briefed by Icelandic law enforcement officers.

Stefansson was one of 11 people originally arrested for allegedly stealing the valuable computer equipment, which remains missing to this day. 22 people in total have been arrested, including a security guard, but the crime has yet to be solved.

The apparent mastermind had been in custody since February and was moved to the low-security Sogn open prison just over a week ago. Sogn prison is just 95km from the airport and is unfenced. Inmates are permitted to use the telephone and internet facilities.

Police chief Gunnar Schram told Icelandic online outlet Vísir that he believes the suspect had an accomplice. Guards did not report Stefansson as missing until the flight he apparently boarded had taken off from Keflavík International Airport. He was identified via surveillance video and was travelling under a passport with a different name.

According to a passenger who was apparently on the same flight as Stefansson, Icelandic prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir was also a fellow passenger. She was due to meet the prime minister of India in Stockholm earlier this week.

Cryptocurrency is big business

At the time of the heist, it was described as “a grand theft on a scale unseen before” by Icelandic police commissioner Olafur Helgi Kjartansson.

Iceland has become something of a hotbed for cryptocurrency activity, with numerous data centre proposals currently being processed in the country.

Jóhann Snorri Sigurbergsson, spokesperson for Icelandic energy company HS Orka, said that electricity use in bitcoin-mining data centres would be likely to exceed that of every single household in Iceland in the near future.

Keflavík airport, Iceland. Image: veesaw/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects