India: Year after note ban, black money reborn as cyber-cash

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November 27, 2017

They used a voice-over-internet service running from a mobile phone. They took care to call from different towns and cities each time, only powering on for the time it took to negotiate. Perhaps most important, what the kidnappers wanted in return for their victim’s life didn’t exist, except as a string of digits in cyberspace. Even as Ashu Jain’s family struggled to raise Rs 2 crore, to be paid online in a digital cryptocurrency, police also despaired. The absence of physical contact to exchange the ransom made it impossible to use surveillance against the perpetrators — and only too easy for them to take the money, and kill their victim.

“The best shot, usually, is to pay the ransom, and then track it. I spoke to every cryptocurrency expert I could locate, but got only one answer: there was no way we’d be able to trace who the money went to,” says Punjab Police DIG Sukhchain Singh Gill.

India’s intelligence services, sources told The Indian Express, have warned the government that the kidnapping — India’s first for-cryptocurrency violent crime — could mark the birth of a new national security threat. At a recent meeting, government sources said, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was told that rupees owned by criminal syndicates, drug traffickers, or tax-evaders, could now be turning digital.