Six in Dutch court over 'bitcoin drug money laundering'


File: Bitcoin can be used to pay for a variety of products and services online and increasingly in real shops.

ROTTERDAM - Six men accused of laundering hundreds of thousands of euros, allegedly by reselling bitcoins paid for by illegal drugs sales, appeared in a Dutch court on Wednesday.

Prosecutors have asked judges to impose sentences ranging from six to 36 months on the suspects.

As part of an international probe, they are accused in 2015 "of money laundering, having hard drugs and preparing for the export, production and trade of hard drugs", the prosecution said on the opening day of the case in Rotterdam district court on Monday.

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The suspects allegedly met with bitcoin traders in places with public access to wifi, swapping their ill-gotten online currency acquired on the Dark Net for hard cash.

The bitcoin traders "as opposed to normal currency exchange shops, did not ask for identification papers nor about the origin of the bitcoins", prosecutors said in a statement.

Appearing one by one before the court on Wednesday, the men denied the claims or insisted they had acquired the bitcoins legally.

"My client is accused of having sold more than 460,000 euros (R7,6-million) in bitcoins which he supposedly earned through drug trafficking," one lawyer Marielle van Essen told judges.

"We complete refute it," she said.

"I had a job, a good salary and no rent to pay. I acquired bitcoins in a completely legal way," said her client, identified only as Mr Bischop.

Bitcoin is a virtual currency created from computer code. Unlike a real-world unit such as the US dollar or the euro, it has no central bank and is not backed by any government. But earlier this month its value soared to $5,000 for one coin for the first time.

Bischop was arrested in August 2015 at an apartment in the central Dutch city of Almere. Police also found drugs and Bischop has already spent a total of seven months in detention.

Prosecutors, however, said the defence "was unable to explain the origins of the astronomical sum of money" earned by the accused, stressing that money-laundering posed "a serious threat to our society".

Another defendant identified as Joey M. was accused of laundering 322,000 euros ($380,000) he made through pushing drugs at a local gym.

Prosecutors asked that Joey M. be sentenced to 21 months while his lawyer asked for him to be acquitted.

Judges will hand down a verdict on November 8.

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