EXCLUSIVE: The unusual case of alleged movie piracy and a small fortune in cryptocurrency is the latest example of police testing their powers under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act, which came into force in 2009.

Police have seized nearly $6.7 million in cryptocurrency, as well as $1.1m in bank funds, from a Hamilton man following an investigation into alleged online movie piracy in the United States.

Sound familiar? This time it is not Kim Dotcom in the sights of American authorities but a software programmer called Jaron David McIvor.

The 31-year-old lives in a modest rental property with a relative who has also been dragged into the inquiry triggered by tax officials in the United States.

There are no overt signs of wealth, such as expensive cars in the driveway.

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But after the police knocked on the door on the weatherboard home in June, McIvor handed them the key codes to unlock more than $6m worth of various cryptocurrencies.

The seizure is part of an investigation into alleged online movie piracy. Photo / 123RF
The seizure is part of an investigation into alleged online movie piracy. Photo / 123RF

While cryptocurrency has been confiscated from a drug dealer in Wellington previously, this seizure is believed to be the first "high value" restraint of cryptocurrency in New Zealand and easily the largest amount.

The assets have been restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act; a civil case where a High Court judge can grant the freezing order if there are "reasonable grounds" someone has profited from "significant criminal activity".

In this case, the police allege McIvor has committed money laundering by receiving millions of dollars from an alleged illegal movie streaming website he helped create.

The Weekend Herald was unable to reach McIvor at home but his lawyer, Hamilton barrister Truc Tran, said his client denied the police allegations of money laundering.

McIvor has not been criminally charged with money laundering.

But cases taken under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act are determined by the civil level of proof, the "balance of probabilities", rather than the much higher criminal evidential threshold of "beyond reasonable doubt".

Whether the seized assets are ultimately forfeited to the Crown will be determined by a High Court judge, either by way of a trial or a potential settlement agreement.

Detective Senior Sergeant Keith Kay, the head of the Asset Recovery Unit in the Waikato, said his team became involved after a tip from the Inland Revenue Service in the United States.

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The IRS had received "Suspicious Activity Reports" from PayPal, the online payment service, which tax officials traced to McIvor in New Zealand.

Other individuals linked to the website living in the United States, Canada and Vietnam are also under investigation, said Kay.

According to financial records obtained by the police, Kay alleged McIvor obtained about $2m from the streaming site.

The money was allegedly deposited into his bank accounts from international wire transfers, PayPal, and another online payment service called Stripe.

As copyright infringement is a crime in the United States, Kay said the simple act of receiving the profits into New Zealand is alleged to be money laundering - the "significant criminal activity" needed for assets to be restrained.

"Introducing illicitly-obtained funds into New Zealand constitutes money laundering and police will thoroughly investigate and restrain the assets of those who undertake such activity," said Kay, "regardless of where in the world the crime is committed."

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Over the years, McIvor invested funds in the cryptocurrency market, selling as well as buying.

When the police executed the restraining orders in June, McIvor had around $800,000 sitting in different bank accounts but detectives were unaware of how much cryptocurrency he had - around $6.2m worth.

Just a few weeks ago, the police executed new restraining orders on a relative of McIvor's.

Another $370,000 in bank funds and a further $470,000 in cryptocurrency, which police allege actually belong to Jaron McIvor as revenue from the alleged online piracy scheme, have been frozen.

Kay says the cryptocurrency, in the possession of the Official Assignee for safekeeping, will be sold by order of the High Court until the final decision on whether the assets are forfeited is made. This is to ensure it does not lose value over time.

The combined total of frozen bank funds and the cryptocurrency could reach $7.8m.

The unusual case of alleged movie piracy and cryptocurrency is the latest example of police testing their powers under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act, which came into force in 2009.

In the past, the law has most often been used to seize wealth accumulated by drug dealers but has pushed into new territory in recent years.

There have been a number of cases involving fraud or alleged tax evasion, such as the restraint of $11m of assets belonging to Gisborne farmer John Bracken who denies any wrongdoing.

"It's quite a horrible situation here. Our funds are frozen, we don't have a lawyer, we're not really sure what avenue we're going down to fight it," Bracken told the Weekend Herald in April.

"[We've done] absolutely nothing wrong."

There have also been several high-profile cases involving allegations of wrongdoing in other countries, working closely with international law enforcement agencies.

"This outcome reflects the importance of these international partnerships and it also demonstrates the capability of our investigators to prevent and respond to cyber-crime and money laundering, which are often unbounded by geography," said Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers, who is in charge of Investigations and Organised Crime.

William Yan in the dock at the Auckland District Court for sentencing on money laundering. Photo / Brett Phibbs
William Yan in the dock at the Auckland District Court for sentencing on money laundering. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The most high-profile case was when the police restrained at least $40m of assets in New Zealand belonging to controversial citizen William Yan and alleged they were purchased from the proceeds of a $130m fraud in China.

Yan, also known as Bill Liu, eventually cut an unusual deal with the police.

He agreed to pay $43m - without admitting civil or criminal liability - which is easily the largest settlement in the history of the legislation in New Zealand.

As part of the deal, Yan agreed to return to China to face trial where he pleaded guilty to embezzlement.

He also agreed to be charged with money laundering in New Zealand and was sentenced to five months of home detention after pleading guilty.

In a similar case, nearly $70m in New Zealand bank accounts have been frozen as part of a global investigation into a wealthy Chinese businessman accused of running a massive pyramid scheme from Canada.

Xiao Hua Gong - the brother of plumber Yu Ping Gong - has built a business empire in Toronto including a hotel chain and television channels, as well as attending fundraisers for Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and donating to the governing Liberal Party.

Edward Gong, far left, at a fundraiser for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo / File
Edward Gong, far left, at a fundraiser for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo / File

He was arrested in Canada and charged with fraud and money laundering in connection to the alleged pyramid scheme involving the "fraudulent sale of hundreds of millions of dollars" in shares in China.

Gong says the evidence against him was gathered by coercion in China.