Woman guilty of laundering bitcoin in UK from $6.3 billion China fraud

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) -A woman accused of converting bitcoin into cash and property to help hide the proceeds of a 5 billion pound ($6.3 billion) fraud was this week convicted of one count of money laundering after a trial in a London court.

Prosecutors said Wen Jian helped hide the source of money allegedly stolen from nearly 130,000 Chinese investors in fraudulent wealth schemes between 2014 and 2017.

She was not alleged to have been involved in the underlying fraud, which prosecutors said was masterminded by a woman known to Wen as Zhang Yadi, whose real name is Qian Zhimin.

As part of their investigation, British police seized wallets holding more than 61,000 bitcoin – making it one of the largest cryptocurrency seizures by law enforcement worldwide.

The 61,000 bitcoin was worth around 1.4 billion pounds when police gained access in 2021, prosecutors said during Wen's trial. It is now worth over 3 billion pounds.

Wen, 42, denied three counts of money laundering, giving evidence that Zhang – who fled Britain in 2020 and whose whereabouts are unknown – told her she was independently wealthy and that Wen did not have any knowledge of criminality.

She was found guilty by jurors of one count on Monday following a trial at Southwark Crown Court. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on two other counts.

On Wednesday, prosecutor Max Baines said Britain's Crown Prosecution Service was not seeking a retrial of Wen on those two counts, meaning the guilty verdict could be reported.

Wen will be sentenced next month for the single count of money laundering of which she was found guilty.

'CRIMINAL SUPERVILLAIN'

Prosecutor Gillian Jones said at the start of the trial that Zhang had arrived in Britain on a false St. Kitts and Nevis passport in 2017, shortly after Chinese authorities began to investigate the fraud.

Zhang needed to convert the stolen money, which was converted into bitcoin to take it out of China, back into cash and used Wen as her "front person", Jones said.

Prosecutors said Wen should have known Zhang's money was illegally obtained, including due to her aversion to travelling to countries which had an extradition treaty with China.

Wen, however, said she was simply trying to provide a better life for her son. Her lawyer Mark Harries described Zhang as an "expert criminal supervillian", who constantly lied to Wen about the source of the money.

Zhang "used her and abandoned her because she was dependable and expendable", Harries said, when she disappeared in 2020.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; editing by William James, Alexandra Hudson)