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hash in the attic Cannabis dealer hands over €1.2m in Bitcoin to CAB - but €100m still missing

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Our reporter Nicola Tallant in Galway, where gardaí seized an estimated €450,000 worth of cannabis from Clifton Collins

Our reporter Nicola Tallant in Galway, where gardaí seized an estimated €450,000 worth of cannabis from Clifton Collins

Kevin Mc Nulty

Our reporter Nicola Tallant in Galway, where gardaí seized an estimated €450,000 worth of cannabis from Clifton Collins

Jailhouse gardener Clifton Collins gifted a Christmas bonus to the Irish taxpayer when he handed over more than €1.2 million in Bitcoin, cash and assets to the State.

A further stash of the cryptocurrency, which is locked away behind a secret lost code, has now shot up in value to a staggering €100 million as Bitcoin value continues to hit record highs.

Collins remained in Loughan House open prison this week, where he is studying horticulture, as lawyers for the Criminal Assets Bureau were given an order to confiscate the money, made up from the sale of 89 Bitcoin, cash and assets bought from the profits of cannabis grow houses.

Green-fingered Collins was nabbed with more than €400,000 of plants in a rental property in Galway which gardai later discovered were funding an eye-watering Bitcoin fortune originally estimated to be worth in excess of €50 million.

The additional 6,000 Bitcoin, controlled by CAB but locked away in 12 digital wallets, would now fetch €100 million if sold at current market value.

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Cannabis grower Clifton Collins

Cannabis grower Clifton Collins

Cannabis grower Clifton Collins

The secret code to open the wallets was scribbled on a piece of paper and hidden in a fishing rod which has gone missing – but CAB believes it is only a matter of time before computer advances allow them open the digital treasure chest.

Collins began buying and ‘mining’ the currency in 2011 and later purchased it before it long before it raised to its current market high of $20,000 per Bitcoin. Collins, however, can’t keep his secret stash as the State says he bought it from the Proceeds of Crime and therefore has a claim on it.

Collins showed little in outward wealth over a 10-year period, when it is suspected he coined it in by flogging cannabis to customers and speculating his profits on Bitcoin, which was created as a cryptocurrency in 2008.

Among the items seized from Collins was a camper van, a fishing boat, outboard engine and a two-seater Gyro plane. He had a collection of cars – but most were more than 10 years old – and travelled around the country between houses. Collins told officers that he had a critical cannabis habit himself and couldn’t remember a lot that had happened in the years since he embarked on his cultivation activities, but he is understood to have had grow houses in two other locations, including Longford.

He is a low risk prisoner and is held at Loughan House where the Sunday World understands he is taking a horticulture course and working in the gardens.

Collins handed over a ‘mnemonic’ key containing 85 Bitcoin and a code for another four he had given to his father shortly after his arrest three years ago. At the time, gardai believed he had a maximum of 1,000 Bitcoin but he later admitted that he had a dozen wallets locked away with six times that amount.

He directed officers to find the code which he had written on a piece of paper and stashed in a fishing rod case, which he said was in the Galway house. But when gardai went looking for it, the fishing rod was missing and nobody could account for where it had gone.

In a number of different scenarios, it emerged that the rod could have been; stolen during an alleged break-in at the property following garda searches, sent to a waste incinerator in China after the landlord cleared out the house or been misplaced in some other way.

The money remains locked in cyberspace until technology allows officers to open the wallets or the code shows up. CAB sources have said that the monies are safe and they will be alerted should anyone try to access them and are subject to he Proceeds of Crime legislation.

In the meantime, the Bureau is transferring whatever else it has belonging to Clifton into liquid cash and this week CAB banked a huge bonus for the State after selling the Bitcoin they do have access to for cash.

Collins, who is serving a prison term for drug dealing, is the Criminal Assets Bureau’s biggest ever loser since its inception in 1996.

In Bray Circuit Court last Tuesday, Collins consented to the confiscation of the first part of his secret fortune when the Bureau told a judge it had sold Bitcoin for €1 million, assets seized for just under €100,000 and held cash valued at €108,000.

The Bitcoin was part of a stash found after searches of Collins’s family home in Crumlin and the rental property in Galway conducted after he was arrested in February 2017 at the Sally Gap.

When his Lexus jeep was spotted by a garda on a routine mobile patrol he was found with €2,000 of cannabis herb but the follow-up searches netted an Aladdin’s cave of weed and the online fortune.

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A cannabis grow house

A cannabis grow house

A cannabis grow house

Collins had taken the house in Galway in 2012 and tried his hand at becoming a beekeeper and selling honey at markets, but all the while he was cultivating hundreds of cannabis plants in the house and using the profits to buy up digital currency and precious metals.

Meanwhile, this week CAB got a Section 3 order against €2 million in cryptocurrency which was stolen in an online in a scam which involved a 21-year-old man from south Dublin who has been jailed for three years.

The currency is currently held in a wallet under the control of CAB but will be handed back to the US authorities who uncovered a theft ring two years ago in the US.

Conor Freeman from Glenageary was identified by US Homeland Security as having taken part in thefts along with five co-accued inthe US who are currently before the courts.

Following his arrest Freeman handed over what remained of his loot which had increased in value due to the rising price of the currency.

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