Published May 7, 2018
Last month, the Icelandic media was trying to keep up with a very strange criminal case which involved a “prison break” and an escape abroad, while being simultaneously connected to the biggest series of thefts in the history of Iceland (the “Big Bitcoin Heist”). For a few days all eyes were set on a man named Sindri Þór Stefánsson and everyone was trying to wrap their heads around his convoluted case.
Let’s get the facts straight first: the prison Sindri managed to escape from is Sogn, a minimum security establishment located in Southern Iceland. He was being held in preventive custody under the suspicion of having been involved in the theft of 600 extremely powerful computer servers used for bitcoin mining in the Reykjanesbær area. The devices themselves were worth around 2 million USD, but considering their future potential of generating untraceable profit, the realistic value would most probably be even higher.
In recent years Iceland has become a magnet for cryptocurrency farming due to its cold climate and low electricity prices (it got to a point here, where the energy consumed by mining exceeds that of domestic usage) and it seems that it was just a matter of time for some organized criminal activity to take advantage of this profitable situation.
The police have been investigating the grand theft of the mining supplies ever since it happened this winter and Sindri, as one of the main suspects, was held in custody since February.
His custody period was to expire on the 16th of April and this is when all the complications began. The twist in the story is that it’s a questionable whether or not it was legal for the police to keep Sindri in custody that day.
On the morning of the 16th of April, the judge postponed his decision on whether the custody should be prolonged for another 24 hours. During this period, when the final decision wasn’t official, it might be said that it was unconstitutional to hold Sindri. This argument will surely be used in his defence.
According to Sindri, there was a meeting he had with staff at Sogn, where they told him that although he was technically free, the police would arrest him immediately if he left the prison. He decided to do things his way. The great escape happened in the early hours of the 17th of April, when under the cover of darkness, he just left the prison through the window.
Booking a flight with a fake name (smooth move), but paying for the ticket with a credit card issued in his real one (not very well thought through), he managed to board a plane to Sweden. Coincidentally, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir was on the same flight (heading to Stockholm for a meeting with India’s prime minister and other Nordic leaders, flying economy class).
From Sweden, he managed to reach the Netherlands, where he was finally apprehended in Amsterdam, shortly after his friend Hafþór Logi Hlynsson posted a photo on Instagram of them together with a hashtag #teamsindri (whether this social media activity was related to the police catching him is not clear and the friend himself refused to give any comments). It looked like a lot of people in Iceland were rooting and keeping their fingers crossed for the guy, seeing him as a rebellious, anti-establishment figure, like a Robin Hood stealing from the most wealthy.
In a statement Sindri issued before his apprehension, he stated: “I’m not trying to say that it was the right decision to leave, I really regret it, as my family has had to endure a great deal of harassment from the press and the general public. I didn’t expect an international arrest warrant to be issued against me, as I was legally free to leave, and believed it was out of the question that I would be labelled a fugitive. I would never have done this if I didn’t believe I was a free man.”
At the time of writing of this article, Sindri’s future is still uncertain and the extradition process is not finished, but it is known that he will be back in Iceland soon and there will be some more trials and tribulations waiting for him here. It was fun to follow Sindri on this wild ride, but what was maybe even more interesting to observe was the context of the cryptocurrency market—a wild, unregulated and unpredictable terrain as well.