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Investigators looking at more suspects in Bt800m bitcoin scam

THAI INVESTIGATORS have widened their probe into the alleged Bt800-million bitcoin investment scam and are looking at more suspects after a Finnish bitcoin-owner was lured into transferring the cryptocurrency for bogus investment in Thai stocks and other assets.

Meanwhile, Supitcha Jaravijit, one of the suspects and sister of fugitive Parinya Jaravijit, who reportedly led the scam, told police she would turn herself in on August 17 to fight the case. Authorities are focused on the money trail and potential money-laundering activities as part of the expanded investigation.

Police searched the house of well-known stock investor Prasit Srisuwan, who has been linked to the scandal, as he is a major shareholder in a business co-owned by some of the suspects.

Searches were also conducted on the houses of other suspects in the case.

Documents were confiscated from their premises as part of an ongoing police investigation. An investigator, who did not want to be named, denied speculation that the 5,564 bitcoins Finnish owner Aarni Otava Saarimaa was cheated out of were sold to unnamed Thai politicians and other persons to launder illicit money via the crypto currency ownership to avoid traceability.

Pol Colonel Chakrit Sawasdee, deputy chief of the Crime Suppression Division, said the key suspect, Parinya, is understood to have fled to South Korea, while investigators are gathering evidence to implicate more wrongdoers in cooperation with the Anti-Money Laundering Organisation (AMLO).

In addition, police have evidence to implicate another key suspect, who is a major stock market player, as Bt66.5 million was transferred into this person’s bank accounts after the bitcoins were converted into Thai currency.

The suspect reportedly approached the Finnish bitcoin owner in June last year to invest in Thai stocks using the latter’s cryptocurrency, a unit of which is currently worth more than Bt200,000.

Besides cash in multiple bank accounts of various Thai suspects, money from the scam was also used to buy a land plot. The Bank of Thailand has said no Thai commercial banks had committed wrongdoing in the scam. Banks cannot deny any customers’ request to open accounts if there was no evidence of illegal activities, it said, adding that banks, however, are required to cooperate with authorities like AMLO or the police if they want to examine the money trail in their accounts.

Under current regulations, customers are also required to report the source of their funds when a deposit of more than Bt2 million is made with a bank. According to investigators, the Finnish bitcoin owner was lured into transferring his crytocurrency for the purpose of investing in the stocks of Expay, DNA 2002 and Dragon Coin last year, but the funds derived from converting the bitcoins were later deposited into the bank accounts of seven Thai suspects.

Thana Photikamchorn, a senior executive of Siam Commercial Bank, said it was not possible to bar customers from trading bitcoins and other digital currencies and then depositing the money into their bank accounts. In this case, banks are only an intermediary, but the deposits could be seized by authorities if they were illicit funds.

Another bank executive said banks would not know in advance if these customers were opening accounts for the purpose of trading digital currencies.

Bitcoins and similar units would have already been converted into baht or other ordinary currencies when the funds are deposited in the banks, he said.

The Nation 

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