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ETH Hacker Gets 10 Year Jail Term, But BTC Theft ‘May Not Be Criminal’ in China

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Source: Burdun/Adobe

Tokens such as Ethereum (ETH) and Bitcoin (BTC) continue to rest on uneasy legal ground in China – where an ETH hacker who struck in 2018 was recently sentenced to 10 and a half years behind bars. But prosecutors in the country have explained that it could be tricky to convict BTC thieves who have struck after the 2021 crackdown.

Per a branch of the Guangxin District Peoples’ Court, an individual surnamed Li used a virus-like program to hack into an ETH wallet that belonged to an individual surnamed Miao. Li then proceeded to steal a total of 383.6722 ETH between March 2018 and April 2018.

Rather than stealing the entire stash at once, however, Li made a total of 520 withdrawal transactions from the wallet – in each case, converting the ETH funds to Tether (USDT).

Police were able to recover funds worth 109,458 USDT from Li’s wallets.

In addition to the prison sentence, the court handed Li a fine of around $28,000.

What Is the Legal Status of BTC, ETH, and Alts in China?

China has carried out two crackdowns on crypto. The first took place in 2017 when exchanges were essentially ordered to shut down and get out of the country. The second took place in September 2021, when Beijing told crypto miners to shut down their rigs and ordered banks to block crypto-related transactions.

Interestingly, China has never attempted to ban BTC or criminalize crypto ownership. Clandestine crypto mining is believed to continue in many areas, while Cryptonews.com has seen evidence that over-the-counter (OTC) crypto trading – particularly in BTC and USDT – still takes place in many areas.

Bitcoin mining pool distribution data (as of 22/11/2022). (Source: BTC.com)

The crackdowns have created a swathe of new legislation and guidelines – which have proved something of a headache for Chinese courts. In a new report authored by members of the Chinese prosecution service, legal experts attempted to weigh in on whether BTC theft can still be prosecuted under Chinese law.

Their findings can be boiled down to the following: In cases dating before September 2021, BTC was deemed to have certain property rights. As such, stealing BTC could be punishable under the same sort of laws that apply to physical (non-monetary) assets. But in cases where hackers or thieves made off with bitcoin after this point, victims may find it harder to find justice.

Chinese law now stipulates that BTC does not constitute property. It can also not be considered to be currency. Thus, the prosecutors concluded, “it cannot be determined” that bitcoin theft “constitutes a crime” in China as things stand in November 2022.