Last month, Bulgarian plumbers were called to clear a blocked drain at an apartment block in the capital of Sofia. The blockage turned out to be the decomposing remains of 41-year-old United States crypto mogul Christian Peev — suspected to have been battered to death with a dumbbell by a friend out of jealousy.
Weeks earlier, a group of children stumbled across the body of missing cryptocurrency millionaire Fernando Pérez Algaba in a river in the Buenos Aries province. Police say he was shot three times before being stuffed into a suitcase, pointing the finger at organized crime.
Missing Crypto Millionaire found dead and chopped up in suitcase. 😥Police have launched a murder investigation after the dismembered remains of missing millionaire Fernando Pérez Algaba, 41, were discovered by a group of children in Argentina over the weekend.#Crypto pic.twitter.com/mnhIKRzAlq— Dulz (@dulzwg) July 27, 2023
It’s only the two most recent cases in a 10-month-long stretch of crypto-related deaths — including a helicopter crash in France, a fatal stabbing in the U.S., and a suspected suicide in South Korea, to name a few.
So, what’s connecting all of these grizzly deaths around the world?
Organized crime to blame
Ken Gamble, the co-founder and executive chairman of financial crime intelligence firm IFW Global, tells Magazine that many of these kinds of deaths are likely linked to the rise of organized crime and money laundering using crypto.
“Crypto-related crime has become bigger than ever before. And money laundering using cryptocurrency is now the number one way for every organized crime group on the planet.”
In May, Gamble’s organization took down a billion-dollar call center scam syndicate in Malaysia. His firm has investigated a number of criminal organizations across Asia and Europe over the years.
“What’s happening is that these organized crime groups, particularly the Chinese, have suddenly come into masses of money. They have had more money now than they’ve ever had traditionally,” said Gamble.
“They’re making so much money that it’s become extremely dangerous now […] they have to now reach out to more groups and more people to try and move the money — broadening their money laundering capabilities,” he added.
Gamble argues this has inevitably led to crypto holders getting mixed up with the wrong crowds.
Retribution for deals gone south
Matt Hussey, former editorial director of Near Protocol and a founder of crypto media firm Decrypt, has also been trying to make sense of the murders.
In a May 19 blog on LinkedIn, Hussey argued that some of the killings are the result of disgruntled investors simply taking matters into their own hands and blamed the “fuzzy area crypto continues to operate.”
“Because crypto straddles the legal and illegal worlds, it is regarded by many as a place where law enforcement does not tread. As a result, retribution and revenge are, for some, the only recourse they have,” he said.
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In April, a 48-year-old woman was abducted and murdered in the affluent Gangnam District in Seoul, with her assailants suspected of trying to get revenge over a failed crypto investment scheme.
In March, a self-proclaimed Candian “crypto king” was kidnapped and beaten over three days after he reportedly scammed investors out of millions of dollars. At least one of his alleged captors was one of the dozens of investors who lost money to the alleged scam. Fortunately, the man survived.
Video has emerged of self-proclaimed ‘Crypto King’ Aiden Pleterski apologizing to investors while appearing badly beaten from a kidnapping pic.twitter.com/jbhv6EuB6C— 6ixBuzzTV (@6ixbuzztv) July 18, 2023
“There are people being targeted because they hold crypto or they’ve been involved in some shady deals […] There are robberies, there are people that are getting murdered because they hold crypto,” added Gamble.
Crypto holders are easy targets
Some of the deaths could simply be because rich crypto millionaires are seen as easy targets amid a time when the cost of living continues to drive upward.
“Crypto is easy to move and easy to steal. Try walking into a bank and taking some money. Yeah, good luck with that. But beat the crap out of someone and drill holes in them? You’ve got a chance of getting away with it,” wrote Hussey.
Gamble said there is “no doubt” that organizations out there are targeting and issuing hits on people who hold a lot of crypto.
“Organized crime figures are going after crypto because it’s not money in the bank; it’s crypto that you can take off someone — like cash.”
“You can steal their credentials and pack their laptop, and if you’ve got their passphrase, you’ve actually got their money.”
Or, it has nothing to do with crypto
Of course, there is also a good chance that most of the deaths have nothing to do with crypto or nefarious people at all.
Out of the 10 reported deaths since November 2022, only the Gangnam woman’s murder in Seoul was seen as the direct result of her connection to crypto. None of the reports have mentioned any cryptocurrency being stolen by their suspected assailants either.
Not to mention, three of the deaths aren’t even being treated as potential homicide.
At the same time, one could also argue that the rise in reported deaths is simply a result of more mainstream coverage of crypto.
The number of crypto deaths reported by mainstream media went from less than one a year to at least 10 since November 2022, when the crypto industry witnessed the collapse of crypto exchange FTX.
Data compiled by public relations firm Vuelio shows that the total number of crypto stories pushed by traditional media outlets surged after the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange, sometimes even beating out the number of stories written by crypto media outlets.
It stands to reason that news desks have become more aware of cryptocurrencies over the past year. Someone dying or being murdered somewhere in the world isn’t likely to make a headline, but someone dying due to their connection to a purportedly shady world of crypto? You bet it’ll make a headline.
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Felix Ng first began writing about the blockchain industry through the lens of a gambling industry journalist and editor in 2015. He has since moved into covering the blockchain space full-time. He is most interested in innovative blockchain technology aimed at solving real-world challenges.