Either this man is really good at doing crimes or Iceland is really bad at security. Authorities say a man who is suspected of being the mastermind behind the theft of £1.4 million worth of bitcoin mining equipment has escaped the Icelandic prison where he was being held. What’s more, he allegedly hopped a flight on the same plane as the Icelandic Prime Minister.
In Iceland, news outlets have come to call it the “Big Bitcoin Heist.” In four separate heists, 600 bitcoin mining rigs were stolen and have yet to be found. Numerous people have been arrested in connection with the crimes, including Sindri Thor Stefansson, the man officials believe coordinated the scheme. But Stefannson is no longer in custody and he’s believed to have flown to Sweden on Tuesday. According to Associated Press:
Police in Iceland said they believe Sindri Thor Stefansson fled a low-security prison through a window and boarded a flight to Sweden at Iceland’s international airport in Keflavik.
Icelandic officials said it was unlikely that Stefansson had to show a passport at the airport since he traveled within Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel zone but the plane ticket he used was under someone else’s name.
A passenger that was on the same plane as Stefansson told Icelandic media that Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, was also aboard the escape flight. Jakobsdottir met India’s Prime Minister in Stockholm on Tuesday for talks on a range of issues.
Police Chief Gunnar Schram told Icelandic outlet Visir that authorities are certain Stefansson had an accomplice who aided his escape from Sogn prison to the international airport in Keflavik. According to The Guardian, the rural prison is 59 miles from the airport, has no fences, and inmates are allowed access to phones and the internet. So far, two people have been interrogated under suspicion of aiding the jailbreak.
Iceland has become an attractive place for bitcoin miners due to its use of hydroelectric plants that provide low electricity costs. But it’s a small country with a population of only 340,000 people and the influx of energy-consuming mining operations hasn’t gone unnoticed. In February, the Associated Press reported that cryptocurrency data centers in the country were on track to consume more energy than all of Iceland’s homes combined, causing observers to fear the grid would become overloaded. For someone to set up a hub with 600 miners in Iceland without being noticed seems unlikely, and the fact that none of the stolen items have been recovered suggests that the devices have been moved out of the country.
In the meantime, cryptocurrency prices have fallen well below the record-setting final months of 2017, and the most powerful players are consolidating their hold on the industry. On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that small-time miners are on the brink of being unable to break even. Huge mining operations keep overhead low by manufacturing their own equipment and buying space and electricity in bulk. MarketWatch estimates the average electricity cost of mining a single bitcoin in the UK at £8,402. At the moment, a single bitcoin is worth $8,250 (£5,812). It’s not hard to imagine why some cryptocurrency entrepreneurs are looking to cut their equipment costs to zero. [The Guardian, Associated Press]