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Bitcoin worth £1.4bn seized after ex-takeaway worker tried to buy £23m mansion, court hears

Bitcoin worth more than £1.4bn was seized by police after a former Chinese takeaway worker tried to buy a £23.5m Hampstead mansion, a court has heard.

Jian Wen, 42, is alleged to have acted as a "front person" to help launder some of the profits of a £5bn investment fraud carried out in China by Zhimin Qian between 2014 and 2017.

Qian bought cryptocurrency to get the proceeds out of the country before coming to the UK using the false identity Yadi Zhang on a St Kitts and Nevis passport, a jury was told.

She fled the UK and is still at large after police raided the six-bedroom house they rented for more than £17,000 a month near Hampstead Heath in northwest London, as well as a safety deposit box.

Officers seized devices containing digital wallets holding more than 61,000 Bitcoin, valued at more than £1.4bn when police gained access in the summer of 2021.

Wen, who is not said to have been involved in the underlying fraud or had access to all of the Bitcoin, is on trial at Southwark Crown Court, where she denies three counts of money laundering between October 2017 and January 2022.

Prosecutor Gillian Jones KC said Wen doesn't dispute dealing with the Bitcoin, but claims she was Zhang's carer and the jury will have to decide whether she knew or suspected it was the proceeds of crime.

She said that when Zhang - who used aliases including Rose, Emma, and Hua Hua - flew into London in 2017, she needed to convert the cryptocurrency back into cash or "property, jewellery or other high-value items".

Before meeting Zhang, Wen - a Chinese national who moved to the UK in 2007 and became a British citizen in 2018 - had worked in a Chinese takeaway in southeast London and lived in room underneath the restaurant.

Wen called Zhang her "boss" and they claimed to be involved in an international jewellery business, trading in diamonds and antiques in countries including Japan, Thailand and China, the prosecutor said.

The pair travelled extensively throughout Europe, selling Bitcoin and buying fine jewellery, including watches worth around £49,300 and £69,900 from Van Cleef & Arpels in Switzerland.

The court heard they discussed buying properties in Zurich before Wen, who remained in the UK while Zhang rented a property in Sweden, tried to buy real estate in London.

Ms Jones said the properties included a seven-bedroom Hampstead mansion with a swimming pool, which was on the market for £23.5m, and a £12.5m eight-bedroom home with a cinema and gym.

But none of the purchases went ahead because the source of the Bitcoin couldn't be explained, the jury was told.

The prosecutor said Wen initially claimed the cryptocurrency had been mined, then said it was a "love present", drawing up a deed of gift stating she had been given 3,000 Bitcoin, then worth £15m, by Zhang.

"That is quite a pay cheque," the prosecutor told jurors. "You are going to have to look carefully at the circumstances of that purported gift.

"A gesture by a very generous benefactor pleased with the care and assistance provided, or a device or sham to create an air of legitimacy as to the source of funds when Miss Wen attempted to purchase high value property on behalf of Miss Zhang."

The trial continues.