Boy in South Africa's Bitcoin ransom case found alive

Katlego Marite, a 12-year-old boy who was kidnapped in eMalahleni (Mpumalanga, South Africa), has been found alive. Marite had been kidnapped by 3 men on Sunday, 20 May 2018 while playing with his friends.

The kidnappers subsequently left a ransom note that, among other requests, demanded a ransom of 15 Bitcoins before releasing Marite.

Bitcoin ransom
Bitcoin ransom note left by Katlego Marite's kidnappers.

Brigadier Leonard Hlathi of the South African Police Service has indicated that they cannot reveal any more information around how the suspects were found as investigations continue. Hlathi did say that Marite was found safe and without being harmed.

What is interesting about the kidnappers, from an initial iAfrikan investigation last week, is that they used a multi-signature Bitcoin wallet split between two people. Furthermore, in an attempt to try and hide and make their Bitcoin transactions untraceable, they appear to have used a Bitcoin tumbler service.

Cryptocurrencies, and especially Bitcoin, have gotten a bad reputation thanks mainly to misunderstanding around their traceability and them being used by some criminals. Given that Bitcoin is digital and all transactions are stored in a distributed public ledger, one would have to go to great lengths to "anonymize" a Bitcoin transaction. Even though no personal information is required when creating a Bitcoin wallet, in cases where a crime is facilitated using Bitcoin, law enforcement can always link the IP address linked to a specific wallet and start investigations from there.


Watch: SABCNetwork episode for 26 May 2018. Sphumelele Zondi and iAfrikan's Tefo Mohapi discuss whether it is possible for criminals to make their Bitcoin transactions untraceable.

The other method that can be used to trace the identities of those using Bitcoin in crimes, is to track activity on local Bitcoin exchanges, as often, especially in countries like South Africa, one can't use Bitcoin to buy much thus you'd need to cash out your Bitcoins to South African Rands at a Bitcoin exchange like Luno.

Hlathi has also said that the suspects held for Marite's kidnapping, were being held for questioning and were not necessarily arrested.


Bitcoin ransom note left by Katlego Marite's kidnappers.

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