Wikileaks' Assange stands to make 'pretty penny' off Bitcoin investment

By FeaturesFOXBusiness

While it appears that Julian Assange won’t be leaving the Ecuadorean Embassy in London anytime soon – thanks to a British court upholding his bail-jumping warrant – the Wikileaks’ founder stands to cash in on possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in Bitcoin whenever the day comes for him to pass through the embassy gates.

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That’s if Assange really did make a 50,000 percent return on the crypto-currency, as he claimed in an October tweet where he sarcastically thanked the U.S. government and individual politicians for motivating him to make a big investment in Bitcoin back when it was nearly worthless.

“My deepest thanks to the US government, Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman for pushing Visa, MasterCard, Payal, AmEx, Mooneybookers, et al, into erecting an illegal banking blockade against @WikiLeaks starting in 2010. It caused us to invest in Bitcoin -- with > 50000% return,” the tweet claimed.

Assange’s tweet was accompanied by a screenshot showing the growth of Bitcoin prices from July, 2010 to Oct. 14, 2017. Bitcoin’s price over that period rose from a literally penny-stock level of just six cents to more than $5,800. While the cryptocurrency has gone through major fluctuations since, it has remained high and as of Wednesday morning Bitcoin was valued at just over $8,100.

NYXBTTHE NYSE BITCOIN INDEX10564.3564-965.12-8.37%

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It’s unclear exactly how much Wikileaks and Assange have invested in Bitcoin, but Assange was an early supporter of cryptocurrency – praising the decentralized digital currency on online forums and setting up a Bitcoin wallet for Wikileaks in 2010 after the U.S. government forced payment companies like Visa, MasterCard and PayPal to block its products from being used to donate to his organization.

“Wikileaks opened a bitcoin wallet very early when the currency was worth almost nothing,” Andrea O’Sullivan, the program manager of the Technology Policy Program at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, told Fox News. “They’ve now got a pretty penny in bitcoin units.”

Neither Assange nor Wikileaks responded to Fox News’ request for comment and it is unclear how much the organization or its founder have raked in from the cryptocurrency. But in December of last year it was reported that Wikileaks main address, and three addresses linked to it, were holding around 1,500 bitcoin – or just under $25 million at the time of publication.

Adding to the purported millions of dollars in bitcoin units held by Wikileaks’ addresses, experts also believe that Assange has most likely set up his own private address where he has stored the bitcoin he purchased early on.

“Knowing Julian Assange, I would be incredibly surprised if he did not have a bitcoin wallet himself,” O’Sullivan said, adding that the Wikileaks’ founder probably has held on to his share of the cryptocurrency given his support of the peer-to-peer system and his distrust of traditional banking establishments.

Bitcoin, which is still not recognized by major banks, allows its users to end-run traditional banks and other financial institutions to pay for goods and services. Despite some European politicians and regulators making noise about getting involved in the hyper-volatile crypto-currency’s trading, many have been critical of the use of Bitcoin in the sale of illegal goods and the difficulty tracking these transactions.

"Bitcoin is successful only because of its potential for circumvention," Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz told Bloomberg TV in December. "It doesn't serve any socially useful function."

Others, however, argue that the cryptocurrency actually makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to track transactions because every transaction – and the addresses involved - is recorded on a blockchain.

“At the end of the day, the record is still there,” O’Sullivan said. “Bitcoin is a new problem, but something that law enforcement will have to deal with.”

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