South Korea’s Supreme Court Says Cryptocurrency is Asset with Measurable Value

Authorities seize 191 Bitcoins in criminal case

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31 May • 2.5 min
In Regulation

South Korea’s Supreme Court has officially declared that cryptocurrency is an “asset with measurable value”, confiscating 191 Bitcoins (BTC), equal to about USD 1.4 million, from a convicted criminal, The Korea Times reported on Wednesday.

The offender, a 33-year-old man, named Ahn was charged to court in May 2014 for operating a child pornography website. His case gained the spotlight as he also made profits via a Bitcoin trading platform. Ahn was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined KRW 696 million (USD 646 000) by a lower court.

After his sentencing, prosecutors also claimed that the 216 Bitcoins they had found in his possession were earned illegally and urged that they be seized as cyber assets. However, a lower court ruled against this decision, stating Bitcoins only existed electronically and had no physical form. But a higher ruling said on Wednesday cryptocurrencies could be seen as profits from trade in goods. The Supreme Court further concluded that 191 of the 216 Bitcoins were received as payment for the illegal online content.

The cryptocurrency is recognized to have value so it can be confiscated. The bitcoins were earned from the proceeds of crime," the high court said, as quoted by The Korea Times. "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 ruling could set a standard for other ongoing criminal cases involving cryptocurrencies. In March, prosecutors reportedly raided the offices of three digital asset exchanges on suspicion of siphoning off funds from customers' accounts. Korean authorities have also recently filed charges against several individuals associated with a US-based cryptocurrency mining firm allegedly behind a major USD 250 million Ethereum (ETH) mining scam.


Easing Regulations


South Korean lawmakers and regulators also appear to be easing their stance on cryptocurrency. South Korea’s National Assembly has reportedly proposed to lift the ban on Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) in the country.

The ban, which came into force in September 2017, effectively outlawed ICOs in South Korea, following concerns over a lack of regulation and limited investor protection. However, according to local media outlet Business Korea, proposals have been put forward that would see ICOs reintroduced, subject to new regulation, and for domestic ICOs only.

South Korea is among the world’s most active crypto trading markets and has seen cryptocurrencies firmly permeating into Korean society among everyday adopters and retail investors. The Asian country accounts for about 12% of trading volumes globally, according to analysts at Citi.