Following an investigation that began in 2016 at the behest of US authorities, New Zealand’s High Court has now ordered the seizure of cash and more than US$21m in cryptocurrencies from a man who helped to develop a movie piracy site. The funds were restrained back in 2019 and in the meantime have gained significant value.
Back in 2016, police in New Zealand received information from the Inland Revenue Service in the United States that a movie piracy website was being operated by a local man.
According to the IRS, the man and his associates were using online international money transfer services to send remittances between the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Vietnam. What followed was a three-year investigation and a raid on the man in 2019.
Police Raid Alleged Movie Pirate’s Home, Seize Crypto Haul
In June 2019, police swooped on software programmer Jaron David McIvor, making two visits to his home in New Zealand. The then-31-year-old reportedly lived in a modest rental property with no obvious wealth or expensive assets such as luxury vehicles.
Several months later in November 2019, it was revealed that McIvor had cooperated with police, handing over the keys to access $6.2m in cryptocurrencies and NZ$6.2m (US$4.4m) and NZ$800,000 (US$568,320) in banked funds. The assets were seized under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act.
Later that month, police seized a further NZ472,000 (US$335,308) in cryptocurrency and NZ377,000 (US$267,820) in cash from a McIvor ‘associate’, later revealed to be his brother.
At the time, Detective Senior Sergeant Keith Kay, head of the Asset Recovery Unit in Waikato, said McIvor had helped to create a movie piracy site (which has still not been named) from which he received significant funds.
The site allegedly operated in the United States and when funds were deposited into various bank accounts via wire transfers, Stripe, and PayPal, a money-laundering investigation was launched. After “suspicious activity” was discovered on an account linked to McIvor, the raids and seizures took place.
Court Orders Seizure of Cash and Cryptocurrency
In a brief judgment handed down by the New Zealand High Court this morning, it is noted the McIvor was investigated for his role in the movie piracy scheme and as a result, significant funds would be forfeited to the state after he admitted profiting from copyright infringement.
According to the Court, the Commission of Police ultimately restrained funds in McIvor’s bank account totaling NZ$818,000 (US$581,066) and cryptocurrencies now worth an eye-watering NZ$21 million (US$14.9m). Additional funds “found their way” into his brother’s account too – almost NZ$386,000 (US$274,195) and cryptocurrency now worth NZ$1.77 million (US$1.25 million)
“The brothers recently agreed to forfeiture of all crypto-currencies and all but $400,000 (US$284,140). I approved their agreement with the Commissioner on 16 November 2020,” the judge wrote.
“I was satisfied this outcome was consistent with the purposes of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009, and the overall interests of justice. I reached this conclusion because the overwhelming majority of restrained funds were forfeited, and litigation over the balance (of $NZ400,000) would be disproportionately expensive and time consuming.
“In short, I considered settlement met the public interest,” he concluded.
Movie Piracy Site Still Not Named
The High Court judgment makes no mention of any further legal action against McIvor and mentions no ongoing investigations or court cases in respect of his copyright-infringing activities. Neither does it mention the name of the site, which seems a little unusual given the apparent scale of the operation.
However, there are some similarities with a case in the United States, also based in movie piracy and involving large volumes of cryptocurrency. Just a month before the crypto seizures in New Zealand, United States authorities confirmed that they had seized around US$4 million worth of cash and cryptocurrency as part of an investigation into alleged movie piracy.
That investigation ended last November with a guilty plea from Oregon resident Talon White and the forfeiture of $3.9 million seized from his bank accounts, $35,000 in cash, cryptocurrency worth around $424,000, plus his home in Oregon, then valued at $415,000. On top, White was ordered to pay $669,557 in restitution to the MPAA and $3,392,708 in restitution to the IRS.
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.