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Australian Police Officer Faces Charges for Alleged Theft of 81 BTC from Drug Proceeds

A case currently unfolding in Australia’s legal system involves William Wheatley, a police officer accused of stealing cryptocurrency assets seized during the investigation of an online drug-trafficking operation.

The charges against Wheatley include theft, managing proceeds from suspected criminal activities, and leveraging confidential information for personal gain. These accusations are being addressed in a committal hearing underway this week at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

As the legal proceedings progress, Wheatley’s defense contends that the case relies heavily on circumstantial evidence, challenging the actions attributed to their client.

Initially accused in December 2022, Wheatley is now disputing the allegations. According to court documents, he allegedly misappropriated 81.616 Bitcoin (BTC) from a crypto wallet during the investigation of a drug trafficking ring under Operation Viridian in 2019.

The operation against the drug trafficking business was conducted by the Icarus Taskforce, a joint effort between the Australian Federal Police and the Victoria Police. During a raid in January 2019, a computer was discovered, leading to the involvement of Detective Sergeant Deon Achtypis of the cybercrime unit. Achtypis and his team uncovered orders involving drugs and Bitcoin transactions on an encrypted email service, as well as a Trezor wallet, which they handed over to the Icarus Taskforce.

Upon restoring access to the wallet, Detective Achtypis found that 81.616 BTC had been transferred shortly after the device was located. Initially valued at $450,000, these assets were subsequently moved to two other digital wallets, now valued at over $6.3 million.

The investigation took a significant turn in 2021 when one of the scrutinized IP addresses was traced back to the headquarters of the Australian Federal Police in Melbourne, raising suspicions of police involvement. Crypto investigator Craig Gillespie, engaged by the authorities, tracked 28 transactions between January and April 2019, some of which were allegedly connected to withdrawals deposited into Wheatley’s bank account.

During the raid, AFP officer Jesse Wyatt contacted Wheatley upon discovering the cryptocurrency wallet, seeking his expertise in a text message describing the device as a possible “cryptocurrency thing.”

As the case continues to unfold, it sheds light on the complexities and potential vulnerabilities within law enforcement investigations involving cryptocurrency assets.

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