A cryptocurrency executive who was kidnapped by an armed gang near his office in Kiev earlier this week was freed on Thursday after paying the ransom demand of more than $1 million in bitcoins.
According to Financial Times, Pavel Lerner, who runs the U.K.-registered cryptocurrency exchange EXMO, was kidnapped in a crime that an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister described as “bitcoin kidnapping and extortion."
Witnesses reported seeing Lerner, a Russian citizen, being placed into a black Mercedes-Benz by people wearing dark clothes and balaclavas.
“He was kidnapped by an armed gang for the purpose of extorting bitcoins,” said Anton Gerashchenko. “We have operative information that he paid more than $1M worth of bitcoins.” Lerner was “then released in a state of shock ... He got very lucky that he remained alive,” added Gerashchenko.
Ukraine’s national police force is now investigating the incident.
EXMO, which is registered in the U.K. with Companies House but also has operations in Ukraine, also reported via Twitter that it had been a victim of a cyberattack, which resulted in its website being down temporarily.
The company was quick to assure customers that their funds were safe, explaining that Lerner’s job didn’t “assume access either to storages or any personal data of users.” While Lerner’s LinkedIn profile says he is the CEO of EXMO, the company reportedly told the BBC he is its analytics manager.
Cryptocurrencies, which can be converted into real-world money anonymously, have caused concern because of their attractiveness to cybercriminals. It's even been reported that North Korea is stepping up cybercrime efforts to secure digital assets like bitcoin, allegedly hacking cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea.