Digital currency donations to Freedom Convoy evade seizure by authorities

According to an investigation by CBC News, most of the roughly $1 million in known donations raised in digital currency for the “Freedom Convoy” appear to have been evaded by authorities more than a month after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act to to freeze the convoy’s assets.

The main account linked to protesters has collected 20.7 bitcoins (about $1,062,674 Cdn), but as of March 18, police appear to have frozen only 5,96405398 bitcoins (about $306,176).

Most of the remaining 70 percent of digital currency assets have been extracted from the original source, with one of the leading self-proclaimed crypto organizer posting videos of himself handing access information directly to convoy supporters in downtown Ottawa.

After court documents and bitcoin moves online, CBC News has assembled a partial but extensive web of transactions in which large sums of money were distributed in hundreds of virtual wallets.

A joint operation involving Ottawa Police (OPS), Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and RCMP is seeking to recover bitcoin used by health-mandated protesters against COVID-19, but observers say those efforts are so far have not stopped users from finding ways to get the money.

“There is a huge limitation, as we have seen, with freeze orders when they pertain to cryptocurrency wallets,” said Mathew Burgoyne, a leading Canadian digital currency attorney based in Calgary.

“The limitation is that the crypto can simply be transferred to another wallet address that has not been frozen, then to another address that has not been frozen, and it can continue to be transferred in an attempt to hide the original source, or trying to get as much money as possible from the wallet that was frozen.”

An example of how 14.6 bitcoin was moved from one account to 101 individual wallets through an intermediary source, according to court documents. (CBC)

Target Items

The so-called Freedom Convoy occupied the streets of downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks in February to demonstrate against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions, including a vaccine mandate for truck drivers to cross the Canada-U.S. border. Protesters also set up blockades at several border crossings in Canada.

On February 14, the Emergencies Act was invoked, designating digital assets as a way in which the legislation’s broad powers would be used to deter protesters from raising funds.

The RCMP blacklisted crypto wallets belonging to the convoy and demanded that Canadian digital currency exchanges stop facilitating transactions.

RCMP declined to confirm or deny any pending operation related to this story, but CBC News has confirmed that the violence targeted 34 crypto wallets.

In the successful filing of a seldom-used civil warrant issued Feb. 17, attorneys representing Ottawa residents in a class-action lawsuit against convoy organizers have listed more than 100 crypto wallets allegedly associated with the protesters.

The civil suit is seeking to recover assets, including digital currencies, collected by protesters and move them to an escrow account to be used as a means of paying damages as a result of the class action.

At least 20 of the wallets listed in the civil claim were on the RCMP’s list, including the primary account used by the protesters to retrieve digital currencies.

Follow the money

Since bitcoin is distributed on a publicly accessible digital ledger known as a blockchain, some specific data about the movement of assets can be found.

According to blockchain research completed by CBC News, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin linked to the protesters continued to move after the freeze orders.

In an example analyzed by CBC News, a wallet containing three bitcoins (about $154,010) was emptied within days and moved to an unmarked account. The same account received nearly 15 bitcoins on Feb. 16, and that total was then spread across other accounts in $200 (.004 bitcoins) increments.

Court documents show examples of other similar patterns.

A website allegedly run by convoy fundraisers boasts of the success of distributing bitcoin to protesters. (https://honkhonkwallets.github.io/)

Monique Jilesen, a lawyer for Lenczner Slaght involved in the civil case against the organizers of the protests, said that as digital currency moves from wallet to wallet, it becomes harder to track but remains traceable.

“I’m assuming, although I don’t know, this was done in part to distribute the wallets… they took one big wallet, moved it into hundreds of smaller wallets, and then they give the passwords to that smaller wallet to the ultimate recipient,” she said.

While the RCMP will not comment on the matter, it has issued a statement to CBC News stating that it has the ability to seize and recover digital currency assets, citing past cases where the Crown has successfully targeted crypto criminals. continued.

“As part of its capabilities and plans to tackle crypto-crime and track crime-related transactions, the RCMP generally uses a variety of police procedures and works with appropriate law enforcement partners,” the RCMP statement said.

Self-described ‘liaison’

One of the key convoy organizers named in the Mareva order documented his own efforts to distribute bitcoin — sometimes personally — to convoy supporters.

Nicholas St. Louis, who has not been charged in this case, handed out envelopes containing what he said were passwords, or “seed words,” directly to protesters in a series of videos posted online Feb. 18.

The Ottawa native had a popular social media outlet about bitcoin and was a self-described “liaison between the bitcoin community and directors of the Freedom Convoy nonprofit.”

In a Feb. 13 video posted to his YouTube channel, St. Louis told viewers’ organizers that they had reached their “ambitious goal of 21 bitcoins” and that while donations would still be accepted, they were “now concentrating on securing and distributing the money”.

Police are upholding an injunction against protesters, some who camped in their trucks for weeks near Parliament Hill on Feb. 19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

When the emergency law was invoked the following day, the website hosting the main digital currency fundraiser was taken down and it was announced that St. Louis would be “monitoring progress” along with another person.

St. Louis announced on its social media that it would be giving bitcoin to “law-abiding citizens”.

“To reduce bottlenecks, we will immediately start decentralizing bitcoin and bring it to truck drivers,” he wrote.

Over the next 24 hours, he documented his plan online.

Handing out Bitcoin to protesters

In videos shared on social media, he approached drivers at the protest in Ottawa before handing them a wallet containing what he believed was information needed to access the bitcoin pot, sometimes labeling the money as “not”. traceable’.

In another video captured on a protester’s live feed, he told one of the truck drivers that the envelope contained $8,000.

A step-by-step guide on how he distributed the money directly to truck drivers was soon shared online.

St. Louis wrote on Feb. 18, “I am not afraid of a cowardly tyrant, I will be peaceful in all situations, I have acted with love, integrity, honor and respect. If I am punished for doing the right thing, I accept that fate please.”

He declined to be interviewed by CBC News, writing, “On the advice of my attorney, I am currently unavailable to speak on matters relating to my involvement with the convoy. Sorry.”

In a March 9 affidavit filed in connection with the civil suit, St. Louis said that on February 28, police officers executed a search warrant at his home and seized approximately $250,400 in bitcoin.

The Ottawa Police Department and the OPP have both forwarded CBC News inquiries about the case to the RCMP.

Ottawa morning9:58Digital currency donations to Freedom Convoy evade seizure by authorities

70 percent of digital currency assets have been extracted from their original source. David Fraser of the CBC told us more. 9:58

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