Court hears how shift manager helped himself to client’s Bitcoin

Manager allegedly helped himself to several hundred thousand euros worth of Bitcoin, and is now being accused of theft and money laundering

A man is accused of stealing Bitcoin from clients of the company he worked for
A man is accused of stealing Bitcoin from clients of the company he worked for

A former shift manager at a customer service company allegedly helped himself to several hundred thousand euros worth of Bitcoin that was being traded by its customers.

Arringo CEO Stephen Hart testified before Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras in the compilation of evidence against former shift manager Stefan Ellul.

Ellul is accused of theft, fraud, misappropriation and money laundering of hundreds of thousands of euros worth of Bitcoin, having been arrested after police investigated the list of employees on duty at the time of the theft. Bail was not granted as the court ruled that he could still potentially access the stolen crypto-wallets.

The accused attended today’s sitting virtually, using Corradino prison’s video conferencing setup, as he is COVID-19 positive and in quarantine.

Hart told the court that the company authorises withdrawals on Bitcoin and its customers trade the cryptocurrency. The stolen Bitcoin belonged to one of Arringo’s corporate clients, he said.

“Arringo offers customer support serrvices,” said the witness. “On 31 August 2018, somebody attempted to make five withdrawals and succeeded. They created a client account and a wallet and filled it with the company’s money,” Hart said. Hart pointed out that he had taken over the company in 2020 and this fact had only been brought to his attention in January by the previous CEO.

Hart said he had liaised with the police who later told him that they had identified Ellul as a suspect.

The accused had initially been employed in 2018 as part of the payments team and had worked his way up to shift leader and later on moved into the marketing department, explained the CEO.

The payments team would have access to the e-wallets, said the witness. “The only way to access CRM is via a VPN set up by the company’s IT supplier,” he said.

The payments team had a shared password to access the CRM system, he said.

Cross-examined by lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, Hart said that the data was stored in servers located in Malta. He also admitted that Ellul had been promoted in 2020.

Azzopardi pointed out that a magisterial inquiry had not been carried out, which meant that the only data collected by the police was that taken from the accused’s devices. He asked the court to appoint an IT expert to make a complete copy of all the data on the servers. This expert would be able to answer all the technical questions which may arise during the case, said the lawyer.

The defence said it was insisting on this, because if no copy of the server was going to be included in the acts of the case, the evidence which the alleged victim will be exhibiting will have to be taken at face value without an opportunity for checking by the other parties. Likewise printed documents which were expected to be produced would be exhibited without an opportunity for the defence to confirm its authenticity or confront its author.

This would put the defendant at a disadvantage as it would not be possible for him to question the evidence, explained the lawyer.

The court gave the Attorney General three days to reply to the request. The case continues next week.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi is defence counsel, whilst lawyers Karl Muscat and Francesco Refalo from the Office of the Attorney General assisted prosecuting Inspectors Anna Marie Xuereb and Shaun Friggieri.