It was a story that seemed like it was pulled straight from pulp fiction: a developer and smalltime criminal steals 600 Bitcoin mining units, and escapes on a plane alongside his country’s leader. That this movie-worthy crime occurred on an island nation the size of Kentucky and half the population of Vermont – and that the units still haven’t been found – only adds to its intense mystery and allure.
This is Iceland’s “Big Bitcoin Heist”, and it’s still breaking news. Last December three separate raids accounted for the stolen units, from a warehouse near Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik. Weeks later 31-year-old Sindri Stefansson was caught and sent to a low-level prison. Days later he fled through a window, hopped on a plane to Stockholm delivering Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir to a political meeting, and became an international fugitive.
Stefansson was later caught and is currently in custody. But questions remain: how did he remove 600 machines without alerting suspicion? Where are they now? Is a crime syndicate involved?
Insiders have told Red Herring the computers may well have been shipped abroad already. Others believe they are stashed somewhere in Iceland, which makes one wonder what the initial crime aimed to achieve. Yet whatever happens to Stefansson and the case, the Big Bitcoin Heist has brought Iceland’s incredible cryptocurrency sector to the world’s attention. And it’s growing at a phenomenal rate.
Five hundred Bitcoin mining machines are installed in Iceland each day. One mining professional said that the heist was merely a “hiccup” in the industry’s rapid rise.
Iceland is now one of the world’s most attractive places to mine Bitcoin – more so since a recent government crackdown sent China’s domestic output into disarray. Low electricity prices, thanks to abundant geothermal energy, and chilly temperatures, contribute to one of the best national grids on earth for crypto-diggers. This year Iceland will expend more electricity on Bitcoin than powering homes for its 334,252 citizens.
Neither have Icelanders bemoaned the industry’s volatility, despite a KPMG warning that it presents a “huge risk factor”: Iceland was one of the worst-hit economies of the 2008 financial crisis, and its people view the national currency, the króna, with a high level of mistrust. Iceland even has its own cryptocurrency, Auroracoin.
Companies like Genesis Mining, the world’s largest cloud mining firm, have pounced on Iceland’s perfect metrics. That will slow, as the country’s infrastructure struggles to accommodate miners flooding its volcanic shores.
But Bitcoin is helping bring tech talent to a tiny nation whose domestic scene is already flourishing – and should continue to do so. Iceland’s education system is strong, and a close-knit cabal of entrepreneurs fueled by four local VC firms is bringing its startups to the world.
Bitcoin itself might fluctuate as much as the northern lights that dance in Iceland’s skies: one is now worth $9,244 from a December ’17 high of $13,860, though it’s still well up on its $2,328 price last July. But Iceland is vaulting into crypto’s premier league of nations. And if anything, the Big Bitcoin Heist has brought that rise into sharp focus.