Deputy U.S. Attorneys Oleksandra Johnson (619) 546-9769) and Aaron P. Arnzen (619) 546-8384
SUMMARY OF THE PRESS RELEASE – December 20, 2021
SAN DIEGO – The United States filed a lawsuit in federal court today to protect and ultimately return more than $ 154 million in funds that were allegedly stolen from a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Group Corporation and then seized by law enforcement during the FBI’s investigation into the theft. .
The United States has filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit in the Southern District of California to protect Sony’s interest in the property, which an employee allegedly embezzled in May 2021 and converted into more than 3,879 Bitcoins valued today to over $ 180 million. These funds were seized by law enforcement on December 1, 2021, based on the FBI investigation.
According to the government complaint, Rei Ishii, an employee of Sony Life Insurance Company Ltd. (“Sony Life”) in Tokyo, allegedly embezzled the $ 154 million when the company attempted to transfer funds between its financial accounts. Ishii allegedly did this by forging the transaction instructions, which resulted in the funds being transferred to an account Ishii controlled at a bank in La Jolla, California. Ishii then quickly converted the funds into Bitcoin cryptocurrency, according to the complaint.
Based on evidence uncovered during the FBI investigation, a warrant for seizure was authorized in June 2021 by a U.S. magistrate in the Southern District of California. As alleged in the supporting affidavit, law enforcement was able to trace Bitcoin transfers and identify that approximately 3,879.16 Bitcoins, representing the proceeds of funds stolen from a Sony Life subsidiary, had been transferred to a specific Bitcoin address and then to an offline cryptocurrency. cold wallet.
The FBI, with significant assistance from Sony and Citibank, continued to investigate in cooperation with the Japan National Police Agency, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office and the JPEC (Japan Prosecutors Unit on Emerging Crimes). As a result of this coordinated effort, investigators obtained the “private key” – the rough equivalent of a password – needed to access the Bitcoin address. All theft-traceable Bitcoins have been recovered and fully retained. Ishii has been charged in Japan.
“We intend to return the stolen money to the victim of this daring theft, and today’s action helps us do that,” Acting US Attorney Randy Grossman said. “This case is an example of the incredible work of FBI and Japanese law enforcement agents, who have teamed up to track this virtual money. Criminals should take note: you cannot rely on cryptocurrency to hide your ill-gotten gains from law enforcement. The United States coordinates closely with its international partners to prevent crime and recover stolen funds. Grossman thanked the prosecution team, the FBI and Japanese authorities for their excellent work on this case.
“The FBI was able to recover these stolen funds for two very important reasons,” said FBI Special Agent Suzanne Turner. “First, Sony and Citibank immediately contacted and cooperated with law enforcement as soon as the theft was detected, and the FBI partnered with the two to locate the funds. Second, the FBI’s international footprint through our legal attaché offices and the pre-existing relationships we have established in foreign countries – in this case with Japan – have allowed law enforcement to coordinate and identify. the subject. The technical expertise of the FBI made it possible to trace the money to the subject’s crypto wallet and to seize these funds. “
The Major Fraud and Public Corruption Section and the Asset Recovery Section of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California handle the process, with significant assistance from the Money Laundering Section. Money and Asset Recovery and Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the Criminal Division of the Ministry of Justice. . The Office of International Affairs of the Ministry of Justice provided investigative assistance. The FBI continues to investigate the alleged crime.