Suspect in Iceland bitcoin-mining heist breaks out of prison, escapes country

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Iceland’s biggest crime caper in years just took a major twist.

The suspected mastermind in the theft of $2 million in computers used to mine bitcoin escaped from a minimum-security prison Tuesday — and apparently flew out of the country on a plane carrying Iceland’s prime minister.

Sindri Thor Stefansson escaped through a window at Sogn prison Tuesday night, according to the BBC, and caught a flight to Sweden from the airport in nearby Keflavik. Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir was reportedly on the same flight, headed to Stockholm for a meeting with India’s prime minister and other Nordic leaders. Stefansson’s escape was not noticed until the flight was in the air. There’s now an international warrant for his arrest.

Stefansson and 10 others were arrested in February in connection with the theft of around 600 powerful computers used to mine bitcoin from data centers around Iceland. The island has become a hub for energy-hungry bitcoin mining, due to its plentiful and cheap renewable energy — so much so that bitcoin mining has surpassed home energy consumption and threatens to exceed the country’s power capacity.

The stolen computers have yet to be found. Even with the price of bitcoin BTCUSD, -0.40%  at $8,152 — less than half of its peak at the end of last year — the computers could be a veritable gold mine.

At the time of the thefts, Icelandic police said the crime appeared to be highly organized, and authorities on Wednesday said Stefansson had at least one accomplice in his prison break, who apparently provided him with a plane ticket in another name.

Iceland has very little crime, and the scale of the heist was almost unprecedented. The prison had no fence, and inmates were allowed to use phones and the internet, the Guardian reported.

“Prison breaks in Iceland usually mean someone just fled to get drunk,” Helgi Gunnlaugsson, a sociology professor at the University of Iceland, told the Guardian. “The underworlds are tiny and it is extremely difficult to hide, let alone flee the country.”