The last few years, the abductors are increasingly demanding cryptocurrency money.
On January 9, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported the abduction of Anna-Elizabeth Falkievik, the wife of one of the richest people in the country, Tom Hagen. The woman disappeared in October, but for more than two months the police held the information in order not to provoke the kidnappers. They demanded nine million euros in cryptocurrency for the release of the 68-year-old Falkievik, but the investigators did not want to cooperate with them.
How is the investigation
Falkievik disappeared on October 31. Supposedly, when the woman was seized, she was in a matrimonial home in Lorenskug, a commune near Oslo. Details of the disappearances are unknown – the police found no signs of hacking. There are only a few clues that indicate a short scuffle in the bath.
In the house, the kidnappers left a note demanding to transfer a certain amount to a Monero account – this is a cryptocurrency with increased attention to the anonymity of users. The exact amount of the ransom for the release of an elderly woman is not disclosed, but various media called the amount of nine million euros.
In the note, the attackers threatened Hagen with the murder of his wife if he went to the police, but the millionaire still contacted the investigators. They advised not to pay the required amount and kept the information about what happened in secret. The silence lasted for more than two months, after which the authorities gave a press conference and revealed the details of what happened. The police did not attack the trail of the criminals, so they turned to the public for help.
Two days after the press conference, more than 100 people called the hotline on the Falkievik case. The police also published a video from CCTV cameras in the Hagen office, which captured three men. Investigators began their search for interrogation. In addition to the local police, agents of Europol and Interpol joined the investigation.
Investigators confirmed that they communicated with the alleged abductors through some kind of “digital platform”, but did not report either the name of the service or the date of the last conversation. After more than two months from the abduction, the police have no suspects and no evidence that Falkevik lives. The investigators also do not know whether she is in Norway or whether she has been transported abroad.
“I will be honest, this case requires careful study. There is no hint that this matter will be resolved in the short term, ” said inspector Tommy Brosken at a press conference on January 9.
Who is Tom Hagen
In 1992, Hagen founded Elkraft AS, which became one of the largest electricity suppliers in the country. The state of the businessman is estimated at about 170 million euros. The spouses lived most of their life together in the house that Hagen had built at the dawn of a business career. The commune of Lorenske, where they lived, is popular with wealthy families: there is almost no crime, and life goes without fuss. The spouses have three adult children.
Hagen’s cottage is located far from other houses and is not equipped with video surveillance cameras – this is one of the key problems that the investigators faced during the evidence collection. According to The New York Times, Hagen rarely appears in the media field, but in the middle of 2018 he became the hero of several news publications revealing his financial condition.
According to the Norwegian edition of VG, the trial of the Financial Funds company, co-owner of which is Hagen, with employees of the brokerage firm Pareto and Russian Severstal began in the fall. Prosecutors allege that Pareto was fraudulently selling shares of the mining company Grew Gold to Severstal, which is why Hagen and its partners suffered financial losses. The police found no connection between the court and the abduction.
Hagen did not comment on the incident in public. His legal representative, Svein Holden, described the abduction as a “cruel and inhuman act”, adding that the victim’s family wants to contact Falkiewik as soon as possible. “They (the Hagen family – approx. ) want to get confirmation that she is fine and alive,” says Holden.
Cryptocurrency as a tool for kidnappers
According to the police, this is the first case in Norway when the kidnappers demand a ransom in the cryptocurrency. As noted by The New York Times, this story casts a shadow on the reputation of cryptocurrency and may lead to the beginning of regulation or its possible ban in the country. It is not known how such a theory can work in theory, especially in the context of Monero.
The hijackers need a ransom in this cryptocurrency for a reason – unlike the popular Bitcoin or ether, it is focused on conducting anonymous transactions, hiding the addresses of the recipients. However, the creators of cryptocurrency doubt that criminals will be able to use the ransom: “Buying more than 1% of any cryptocurrency in a short time without significant price fluctuations is very difficult at best,” says one of the creators of the service Francisco Cabañas.
Large digital platforms do not accept Monero; therefore, popular cryptocurrencies are often needed to convert the ransom into dollars or euros. But when converting such a sum to achieve complete anonymity does not work – somewhere you have to specify a part of personal data.
Norwegian investigators are studying similar cases in other countries, hoping to find useful clues. According to the consulting firm Control Risks, over the past few years, attackers have increasingly begun to demand a ransom in cryptocurrency.
The first high-profile incident occurred in 2015 — when a Canadian and a resident of Costa Rica were kidnapped and demanded 500,000 dollars in Bitcoins for his release. A month later, the man returned home, but the police did not disclose whether they had paid the kidnappers. In the same year, a similar situation occurred in Hong Kong – two hostages were released after relatives paid part of the ransom in an unnamed cryptocurrency.
In December 2017, Pavel Lerner, a Russian IT specialist, was kidnapped by masked unidentified persons near a working office in Kiev and released after paying an unnamed amount in bitcoins. In May 2018, a 13-year-old was kidnapped in South Africa and demanded 92,000 euros in Bitcoin for his release. Otherwise, the child was threatened to be killed. Since then, the country has recorded at least a few more cases of such abductions, including children.
In July 2018, London-based consulting firm Control Risks announced a growing trend of abductions demanding payment of a ransom in cryptocurrency. “In 2017, we recorded about two such cases each quarter, in the first half of 2018 [trend] grew slightly, reaching about one case [abductions] per month”, – said in a statement.