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Drug dealer loses £45m bitcoin fortune after hiding codes in fishing rod case

Anthony Cuthbertson
The price of bitcoin crashed following its peak in December 2017 but has steadied since the start of 2019: Getty Images

An Irish drug dealer has lost acces to a bitcoin fortune worth millions of euros after the access codes were reportedly sent to a landfill site.

Clifton Collins, 49, wrote the private keys to digital wallets containing 6,000 bitcoin onto a sheet of A4 paper, which he hid in a fishing rod case in early 2017.

Collins, who is originally from Dublin, was arrested later that year and jailed for five years for cannabis-related offences. His landlord subsequently cleared many of his possessions from his house and sent them to a landfill site in County Galway.

According to the Irish Times, who first reported the story, workers at the dump remembered seeing discarded fishing gear, however waste from the site is sent to incinerators in China and Germany.

At current exchange rates, the fortune is worth €54 million (£45m).

The bitcoin fortune, which is spread across 12 online accounts, was allegedly amassed in late 2011 and early 2012 using cash obtained by crowing cannabis.

The Irish Criminal Assets Bureau is monitoring the wallets, however it has no way of accessing it without Collins's private keys.

Private keys are made up of a string of letters and numbers that are designed to be deliberately hard to remember. The alphanumeric code is the only way to access a bitcoin wallet and it is impossible to spend or transfer the cryptocurrency without it.

A 2017 study by digital forensics firm Chainalysis estimated that nearly four million bitcoin have been lost forever, representing around 20 per cent of the total number that will ever exist.

Collins's lost fortune is not the largest to have diappeared. In 2013, Welsh IT specialist James Howells made headlines after accidentally throwing away a computer hard drive containing 7,500 bitcoin.

In an interview with Newsweek in 2017, when the price of one bitcoin was approaching $20,000, Mr Howells said he was "pretty Zen" about the misplaced cryptocurrency.

"I have good days and bad days, but overall I'm good," he said. "Anyway, no point crying about it."

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