Bitcoin Ransom Delivered to Alleged Taiwanese Kidnappers

Following the kidnapping of billionaire Pearl Oriental Oil chairman Wong Yul-Kwan, it has been reported that the family of the business mogul has allegedly paid nearly $2 million in bitcoin to the men responsible for his capture after they sent repeated threats of physical violence towards their hostage.

Yul-Kwan had been missing since late September, and was held in captivity for well over a month, blindfolded and handcuffed to a bed in an abandoned house in the Kouhu Township in western Taiwan. It is believed that the kidnappers repeatedly burned Yul-Kwan’s face with cigarettes and delivered harsh injuries to his body. According to the South China Morning Post, the billionaire said that he felt he could die at any moment while being held by his alleged captors.

“Every day I felt I might not be able to see the sun the next day,” Yul-Kwan explained.

Only a few days after the kidnapping, Yul-Kwan’s wife began receiving calls and emails from the kidnappers, who were demanding a $9 million bitcoin ransom to be delivered to them within two weeks in exchange for her husband’s life.

According to CoinTelegraph, law enforcement agencies currently suspect Cai Wen-Li as the leader of the operation. Wen-Li is an alleged member of the United Bamboo Gang, known for their dealings in kidnapping, extortion and related crimes. Additionally, several other suspects were arrested including triad members and even a village chief.

Thus far, local authorities have been unable to trace the bitcoin transaction or the bitcoin wallet that received the ransom. Yul-Kwan is now receiving medical treatment in a nearby hospital, while Hong Kong police and Taiwanese enforcement agencies are launching a full-scale investigation in an attempt to track down the culprits and get a stronger understanding of everything that occurred.

Yul-Kwan had originally been out on bail while waiting to face fraud charges from Hong Kong’s High Court relating to his previous purchase of a Utah oil field.

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At the present time, Russia and bitcoin seem to go together like peanut butter and cottage cheese. It’s not exactly the most wholesome-sounding combination, and right away, our imaginations begin to run rampant. What exactly would such a concoction look like? Even worse, what would it taste like?

It’s no secret that Russia has not been friendly towards bitcoin in the past. News is flashing abound that the country is still aiming to ban bitcoin activities, and while censorship no longer threatens cryptocurrency-related websites on the same level it once did, the country’s government has asked various digital currency companies to pack up and leave, insisting that they take their business elsewhere.

With a recent bitcoin extortion plot against five Russian banks, one cannot help but wonder if the nation’s hatred and distrust towards the virtual currency might grow further down the line. According to Artyom Sychev, Deputy Director of the General Directorate of Security and Information Protection of Russia’s Central Bank, five financial establishments in Russia have become the victims of a DDoS attack originally slated to take place on September 26th.

The banks were able to avoid any real danger as the attack bore no effects on their services or operations, but what followed were threats of extortion and letters demanding bitcoin ransoms.

Speaking with CoinTelegraph, a representative of the central bank explained:

“To prevent such acts in the future, the attackers are asking to send only 50 BTC to their Bitcoin wallet.”

Despite the threats, Sychev believes that the attack occurred primarily to start a panic, rather than extort or collect any funds.

On one hand, a former Russian Minister of Economy and Trade, German Gref, is arguing against a bitcoin ban. Financial company Qiwi has also announced plans to release the bitruble. On the other hand, an attack on the country’s banks is likely to extend Russia’s distrust a little further, possibly putting a damper on both Qiwi’s plans and Gref’s words.

Should Russia give in and legalize bitcoin fully? Post your thoughts below!

Is BitPay in trouble?

Wind has been caught that one of the world’s largest bitcoin payment processors is in the process of performing massive layoffs, and that half its staff will leave its vicinities in order to halt costs and keep up with bitcoin’s current pace.

A user named Bingo Boingo on qntra.net writes on the website’s forum:

“According to a known and reliable eyewitness numerous people have been spotted leaving the BitPay office in tears. This suggests rumors of further rounds of layoffs at BitPay. The witness further suggests that the marketing department was hit hard as many people’s phone lines at BitPay no longer work. BitPay’s struggles over the last year suggest high burn rate is a severe danger to companies starting up in the Bitcoin space… Expect more follow up and likely pictures later.”

Oddly enough, the layoffs coincide with the story of a computer hacker, who last week managed to scam BitPay out of nearly $2 million. According to CoinTelegraph, the culprit allegedly manipulated the email account of a certain BitPay executive, thus convincing company CEO Stephen Pair to send forth thousands of bitcoin to him directly. The publications suggest that the layoffs may be a simple matter of one event inevitably leading to another. With fewer funds available, BitPay now has to scrimp and save.

The company has been experiencing financial problems since its introduction of the Bitcoin Bowl early last December. The move failed to generate any solid interest or revenue, which led to the layoffs of nearly a dozen employees at that time.

BitPay is also facing controversy from its “Free Plan” introduced in July of last year, which promised unlimited transactions to new merchants. Recently, BitPay changed the plan to instill $1,000 limits on transactions and charge one percent processing fees.

What do you think about BitPay’s ordeals? Post your comments below!

Will the blockchain change business operations as we know them? Computer king IBM sure thinks so. In what is a clear instigation that the corporate world is now embracing the technology behind bitcoin, IBM has confirmed that it is further experimenting with the blockchain to focus and improve its systems, particularly the future Internet of Things.

Arvind Krishna, the senior vice president and director of IBM research, recently posted some personal (and positive) thoughts towards the blockchain in a blog post, saying:

“It’s a completely novel architecture for business – a foundation for building a new generation of transactional applications that establish trust and transparency while streamlining business processes… It has the potential to vastly reduce the cost and complexity of getting things done.”

Krishna further explained to CoinTelegraph:

“Blockchain, as a technology, is extremely interesting and intriguing. I want to extend banking to the 3.2 billion people who are going to come into the middle class over the next 15 years. So I need a much lower cost of keeping a ledger. Blockchain offers some intriguing possibilities there.”

Specifically, IBM is looking into the blockchain with the hope that it will be able to create and release smart contracts, private online contracts meant for logging transactions between businesses and their banks. Once a transaction is complete, any funds owed to one party or more could be immediately released through online payment means. This would be a much more efficient and time-sensitive method when compared to wire transfers.

IBM Middleware CTO Jerry Cuomo explained to fastcompany.com:

“We always have our eye out for the next innovation around these things… When you look at blockchain – that notion of a decentralized database that is peer-to-peer and based on shared ledger and public and private key cryptography with smart contracts – it kind of turns the model on its side a bit.”

This is IBM’s second venture into blockchain territory, the first being the Adept project from January of this year.

So as it turns out, approximately 65 percent of the general public does not understand bitcoin in any way, shape or form.  Both The Guardian and CoinTelegraph reported such statistics.  Many simply have no idea what bitcoin is, what it does or how it can be traded or used.

bitcoin pic

I, myself have seen similar circumstances when talking with people I know or am close to.  At a Christmas party last year, I found myself suddenly trying to explain to family members what bitcoin was; how it could be used, how it “flowed” through what’s known as the blockchain, etc.  I found that pretty much everybody was staring at me with dazed eyes, and after a while I dropped the subject, as I figured my words were not necessarily falling on deaf ears, but rather misunderstanding ears.

What’s particularly surprising is the amount of people that don’t seem to understand it despite the healthy amount of coverage that bitcoin seems to be getting.  For example, several acquaintances of mine who do not delve in bitcoin are familiar with Silk Road and the trial of Ross Ulbricht.  Now bear in mind that the extent of their knowledge is that Ulbricht is an alleged drug kingpin who was supposedly selling drugs and other contraband on the Internet.  They are not necessarily familiar with Silk Road’s background or its relationship to bitcoin.

Why do you guys think bitcoin hasn’t really penetrated the general population?  Is it lack of credible media coverage?  Is it because people just don’t care?  List your thoughts and comments below.

Images from Creative Commons Images

California has now become “Crypto-rnia”.

The state’s governor Jerry Brown has approved bitcoin for transactions, thus making California a sturdy haven for digital currency.

The news comes following the ratification of a new finance bill originally approved in the summer of 2014.  The bill’s objective was to end all prohibitions on alternatives to U.S. dollars for commerce in the state.  Through the bill’s official ratification, alternate currencies (including bitcoin and related virtual monies) are hereby permitted for transactions at the legislative level.  Prior, only USD was recognized as an acceptable form of currency.

In a country that is split right down the middle on the subjects of cryptocurrency and bitcoin, California is now one of the “friendlier” bitcoin states for digital enthusiasts.

Speaking to online cryptocurrency publication CoinTelegraph, Fletcher Starkey, the owner of a San Francisco-based bar and restaurant that has been accepting bitcoin since its grand opening in 2014, spoke about the ratification of the bill, and feels that the state and Governor Jerry Brown are headed down the right path:

“California is leading the charge toward a more secure and simple payment system, which benefits customers and merchants, instead of credit card companies.”

Starkey continued to explain that his restaurant, known as CDXX, has “plenty of tech savvy customers and business owners, and many open-minded entrepreneurs.  I wish every one of my customers would trade in their Visa for Bitcoin.”