Karnataka Bitcoin case: ED probes foreign transactions of hacker Srikrishna’s brother

The ED has not received satisfactory responses with regard to an amount of 50,000 British pounds (around Rs 47 lakh) received by the hacker’s brother Sudarshan Ramesh in his account resulting in the central agency preventing the brother from leaving the country, sources familiar with the case said.

The agency recently told the Karnataka High Court that it could not allow the hacker’s brother to return to the Netherlands, where he was employed, on account of his non-cooperation in the ED’s investigations into the proceeds of funds obtained through hacking crimes by Srikrishna Ramesh.

“A detailed probe is required to get details from foreign banks regarding these transactions and investigation is still pending,” the ED’s counsel Prasanna Kumar told the court.

The agency is investigating a money laundering case against Srikrishna Ramesh, 26, who is accused of stealing Rs 11.5 crore from an e-procurement portal of the government of Karnataka besides hacking into gaming sites in India and cryptocurrency exchanges in foreign countries.

The cases against Srikrishna have had political repercussions in the state on account of the opposition Congress party accusing the ruling BJP and the police department of favouring the hacker after his arrest in a case of purchasing drugs using Bitcoins in November 2020. The Congress had also questioned the disappearance of the Bitcoins that the hacker claimed to have in his possession.

The hacker’s brother Sudarshan, 31, an engineer in the Netherlands, was prevented from leaving India in January this year – following a visit to meet his family – by immigration authorities on the basis of a lookout circular issued by the ED.

On Tuesday, the ED’s counsel told the high court that it is not in a position to indicate if Sudarshan can be allowed to leave the country on account of his lack of cooperation in the probe.

The ED is trying to ascertain the movement of funds stolen by Srikrishna and associates from various locations using his computer hacking skills. The ED has questioned Srikrishna and several of his associates in connection with the money laundering investigations over the last year.

In a petition filed against the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Bureau of Immigration and ED, Sudharshan has said that he was questioned on a few occasions by the ED in connection with an alleged scam involving his brother and claimed he had no connections with his brother’s actions.

“It is submitted that one Srikrishna, who also happens to be the brother of the petitioner, was allegedly involved in some scam. Pertinent to note that the petitioner has no prior information of such antecedent as he was not in India at the relevant point of time since his stay in the Netherlands for the last eight years,” says the petition.

The money laundering probe carried out by the ED has so far resulted in the seizure of Rs 1.43 crore of a total amount of Rs 11.5 crore that was stolen by the gang from the Karnataka e-procurement portal.

Srikrishna, who has a degree in computer science from the Netherlands, returned to India in 2017. In a voluntary statement given to the police during the course of his police custody, he stated that he was involved in the hacking of the Bitfinex exchange with a hacking group he was associated with in the Netherlands.

The hacker has claimed in statements given to the Bengaluru police that he hacked into the British Virgin Islands-based Bitfinex crypto-currency exchange during 2015-16. The FBI and other US agencies are investigating the theft of 119,754 Bitcoins (valued at $4.5 billion at present) from the Bitfinex exchange in 2016.

In February this year, US agencies reported the detection of nearly $3.6 billion worth of the Bitcoins stolen from the Bitfinex exchange in 2016 from two US nationals Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan after their arrest in New York. The US agencies have reported the recovery of 94,636 of 119,754 Bitcoins stolen during the 2016 hack.

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