Attackers stole $45,000 worth of cryptocurrency from a New Zealand police bitcoin wallet in an ongoing operation against them, reports the New Zealand Herald.
Law enforcers conducted an online money laundering investigation, but lost the funds as a result.
The agency opened a criminal investigation into the theft and also conducted two internal investigations.
According to Detective Inspector Stuart Mills, the perpetrators of the theft "were probably overseas" and "the crime was part of a wider fraud targeting bitcoin wallets".
The internal investigation found no breaches of standard operating procedures by staff during the operation. Detective Inspector Christian Barnard of the police's financial intelligence unit, who conducted it, made several recommendations to improve processes.
The cryptocurrency was acquired by law enforcers in 2020 and was intended as a "controlled buy" - a special operation where police officers attempt to purchase illegal goods or services.
Ross Carter-Brown, founder of cryptocurrency company BitPrime, commented on the news of the loss of assets with words:
"It's pretty wild."
He noted that a bitcoin wallet could be accessed with a private key or seed phrase. Carter-Brown said it was unlikely that detectives would voluntarily give the data to attackers or that the latter would gain access to it through the police network.
In his view, the most realistic scenario appears to be that the controlled buy went awry and those the police were trying to lure into the trap disappeared with the cryptocurrency without providing any goods or services. If the detectives fulfilled their part of the deal by sending the funds, they could no longer undo the bitcoin transaction, Carter-Brown stressed.
As a reminder, British police officers were more successful in a money-laundering investigation, seizing a national record amount in cryptocurrency worth around $158 million.