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Photo: Reuters

Top South Korean court recognises cryptocurrency as asset

In the first time a cryptocurrency has been subject to confiscation in the country, US$2.3 billion worth of the currency will be seized from the operator of a pornographic website


By Kim Hyun-bin

Korea’s top court confirmed Wednesday a previous appellate court order to confiscate the 191 bitcoins from a person named Ahn, worth 2.4 billion won (US$2.3 million) earned from running an online pornography website.

In doing so the Supreme Court recognised cryptocurrency as an “asset with measureable value.”

It said Ahn increased the value of his bitcoins by running the pornography website.

Ahn was previously sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined 696 million won (US$646,375) by a lower court, confirmed by both a high court and the Supreme Court.

This marks the first time a cryptocurrency has been subject to confiscation.

“The crytocurrency is recognised to have value so it can be confiscated,” the Supreme Court stated.

The 33-year old Ahn was arrested and indicted in May 2017 for violating the Protection of Children and Juveniles From Sexual Abuse Law.

His case gained the spotlight as he also made profits via a bitcoin trading platform.

From 2013, Ahn distributed 235,000 obscene pictures online and made 1.9 billion won (US$1.7 million).

After his sentencing, prosecutors also claimed that the 216 bitcoins in his possession were earned illegally and urged they be seized as cyber assets. However, a lower court ruled against them, stating bitcoins only existed electronically and had no physical form.

On appeal, a high court ruled in the prosecution’s favour, saying the cyber assets could be seen as profit earned from the trade in goods. It said 191 of the 216 bitcoins were payment for the illegal online content.

Under Korean law, seizable hidden assets ranges from cash, stocks and money in deposit accounts as well as other tangible and intangible assets that hold value.

“The bitcoins were earned from the proceeds of crime,” the high court, said ordering them to be confiscated.

“If we return the bitcoins to Ahn, it will be giving him back profits that were earned illegally from running an online porn site.”

The Supreme Court upheld this ruling, and thus will allow any cyber assets gained from illegal activity such as gambling, drug deals, pornography and prostitution to be confiscated.

Since Ahn was convicted in last September, the value of his bitcoins increased fivefold.