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The total prison population for the entire country seldom rises above He speaks in a guarded growl, still wary of saying too much after being sentenced to four and a half years in prison. In a country known for its niceness, Stefansson was naughty from the start.

Born and raised in the small town of Akureyri, he committed his first breaking and entering in kindergarten, smashing a window at school and reaching inside to open the door. In that moment, he says, he experienced the adrenaline high he would spend his life chasing. In his teens, Stefansson graduated to drugs: pot, speed, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD.

By the time he turned 20, he was growing cannabis. His rap sheet soon included cases of petty crime. Then, during a month stint in prison with Hlynsson, he managed to get clean.


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  • Determined to turn his life around, he got married, took a job driving a postal truck, and graduated with a degree in computer science from the University of Iceland, where he was voted Prankster of the Year. He started a string of businesses: creating websites for car rental companies, selling protein pills online, even leasing warehouses to expand his marijuana crop.

    But he was deep in debt and unable to support his three children. The answer, he decided, lay in the unsecured buildings at the old naval base, packed with zillion-dollar money machines. Everything is related: electricity, air, heat, cooling systems. So I started asking around on the internet.

    Bitcoin Is Illegal in Iceland but Could It Be the Solution They Need?

    It was cryptocurrency, ironically, that helped save Iceland after the bankers bankrupted it. Flooded with cash, the banks grew nearly seven times larger than the national economy. They plowed their paper profits into foreign assets—real estate, fashion brands, soccer teams—only to go bust in the global financial crash of Six years later, in , a new bonanza arrived in the form of Bitcoins. One wintry day, a German cryptocurrency entrepreneur named Marco Streng stepped off a plane at Keflavik International Airport.

    Iceland was rich in everything that Streng needed to mine Bitcoins.

    There were plenty of empty warehouses to house his computers at absurdly low rents. There was cheap geothermal energy, literally rising from the earth, to power them. And in a country with almost no crime, there was little need to spend money on extensive security measures. Within six months, Streng transformed an abandoned building on the former base—an old U.

    Commercial miners arrived from Asia and Eastern Europe. But wherever there is money, crime is sure to follow. One night at his keyboard, in the summer of , Stefansson says he made a connection that would transform both him and his country. X, told Stefansson that his plans were crap. X told Stefansson that he would give him 15 percent of the profits from as many Bitcoin computers as he could steal from data centers across Iceland. X would establish their own Bitcoin mine. To pull off the heist, Stefansson says, Mr. X assembled a motley crew of Icelandic men in their 20s, all of whom happened to know each other.

    None of them had a significant police record. Finally, there was the boss of the operation—although who, exactly, that was remains a matter of dispute. While the courts have concluded that Stefansson organized the heist, he insists that he was directed by the shadowy Mr. It was like an assignment. This is why I can call it my favorite case. By July , Stefansson had a Bitcoin wallet, burner phones, 10 tracker devices to attach to security vehicles, and rings of duct tape to silence any mouthy witnesses.

    He communicated with his team via Telegram, a service that enables encrypted, self-destructing messages. A prosecutor later insisted that the page was proof of an organized crime ring, possibly international in scope—a claim that cracked the guys up. On the day I visited, several stern guards sat before giant split-screen security monitors, watching over every inch of the facilities, inside and out. But at the time of the Big Bitcoin Heist, no one was there.

    On the night of December 5, , as flurries of sleet and snow buffeted Iceland, Stefansson and his crew broke into the Algrim Consulting data center at Asbru. They stole Bitcoin computers, along with power sources, graphics cards, and assorted supplies.

    Icelandic Lawmaker Floats Bitcoin Mining Tax

    Five days later, on December 10, the Borealis Data Center told police that someone had tried and failed to break into their facility at Asbru, attempting to disable the alarm by gluing the security sensors. The police seemed slow to investigate, and the burgled companies preferred that the crimes stay quiet.

    Any talk of a heist would be bad for business. Stefansson and the rest of the gang might have stopped there. They already had enough computers to set up their own small Bitcoin mine and enjoy the proceeds. But making money in cryptocurrency requires size and speed: It takes a lot of computing power to solve and package data, and the only people who get paid are the ones who crack the complex equations first.

    In Bitcoin mining, every second counts. Then Stefansson got a call from someone he had studied computer science with at the university.

    The warehouse at the local AVK Data Center suddenly needed more electricity—a lot more electricity—for something called Bitcoin. Stefansson drove from Akureyri and studied the small metal building in the middle of nowhere. The mine was only six days old. The lone police officer patrolling the area had gone home for the night. And a window way up high had conveniently been left open, to let the frigid air cool the red-hot computers.

    This being Iceland, someone had even left a ladder nearby. Stefansson asked Matthias Karlsson to buy a vehicle, and the conscientious day care worker came through with a cheap blue van, purchased on the Icelandic version of eBay. Ten days after their first job, Stefansson and Viktor the Cutie drove to the data center, where Stefansson climbed the ladder, slipped through the open window, and landed, catlike, on the concrete floor. In their excitement, they took the fastest route: the Whale Fjord Tunnel, a 3. In court, the Cutie tried to use his love of tattoos as an alibi: A tattoo artist testified that Viktor had spent the entire night in bed with her.

    What came back was… nothing. No data. Not even a connection. This would never happen in Iceland!

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    The owner called the police, who reviewed footage from a CCTV camera at a nearby hardware store. It clearly showed the used blue van Karlsson had bought. The police ran the plates and arrested Stefansson and Karlsson. In their gentle Icelandic style, they placed the suspects in dormitory-style cells in their hometowns, then brought them in for questioning. The walls are covered with images of the Northern Lights and the buds of Icelandic flowers poking up through the snowy tundra. Ottensen was impressed with how nice the suspects seemed.

    He had no idea his information would lead to a burglary, and they used him.

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    Questioned by police, Stefansson and Karlsson insisted that they had absolutely nothing to do with the burglary. But the Bitcoin thieves were far from finished. While being detained in the Borgarnes investigation, Karlsson lost his job as a day care worker. Deep in debt, and with a child on the way, he blamed Stefansson. He was captured after he and his accomplices posted a photo on Instagram left. On the day after Christmas, cell phone records show, the gang drove together to the former naval base at Asbru to try their luck at hitting the Borealis Data Center a second time.

    This time they tried to climb through a window.