Norwegian police have released new details about a suspected kidnapping case linked to a €9m (£7.8m, £11m) cryptocurrency ransom.
The disappearance of 68-year-old Anne-Elisabeth Hagen, the wife of a wealthy real estate investor and one of Norway's richest men, has baffled investigators for nearly three years. Investigators have been unable to unravel who is behind the shadowy plot, which involves cryptocurrencies, coded messages, the dark web, a multimillionaire and his missing wife.
Now, the head of the investigation has appealed for help from the public after revealing new details of the case in an interview with the Norwegian tabloid VG.
Anne-Elisabeth Hagen disappeared without a trace from the small town of Lørenskog, Norway, in October 2018. A ransom letter demanding €9m in cryptocurrency was subsequently discovered at Hagen's house.
Anne-Elisabeth was the wife of Tom Hagen, one of Norway's richest men. He has been described in the press as a low-profile property and energy tycoon with an estimated net worth of 1.9bn kroner (£147m).
After initially suspecting kidnapping, police later changed their theory to a murder coverup.
Last year Tom Hagen and a man in his 30s were charged with murder in connection with the case. At the time of Tom Hagen's arrest in April 2020, police told the media they believed no abduction had taken place and there had never been a counter party seeking a ransom.
“In other words, the police believe that the case is characterised by a clear, planned deception,” a statement released at the time said.
According to VG, both of the men are still charged and deny any wrongdoing. Yahoo Finance UK has contacted Svein Holden, Tom Hagen's lawyer, for comment. He did not respond in time for publication.
Anne-Elisabeth has still not been found and the Norwegian police inspector in charge of the case this week spoke to Norwegian tabloid VG in an attempt to flush out new evidence and crack the case. Inspector Gjermund Hanssen revealed for the first time new details of the exact steps the person or persons behind the plot took to arrange the cryptocurrency ransom and communicate with police.
New details include:
the kidnapper or kidnappers used bitcoin to communicate with police through coded messages;
a VPN was used to obscure whereabouts;
another cryptocurrency, dash, was used to obscure the money trail;
and the people or persons behind the plot used a stolen identity to set up accounts on cryptocurrency exchanges Binance, Huobi and KuCoin.
Authorities believe complex and advanced knowledge of cryptocurrency and related fields such as the dark web are key to the case, according to VG. They are hoping that publicising the details will allow outside experts to help them crack it.
"We are wondering who in 2018 had both these skills and the willingness to do this to Anne-Elisabeth Hagen," Hanssen told VG.
Hagen was last heard from when she made a phone call to her son at 9.14am on 28 June 2018. Tom Hagen reported her missing later that day.
A crucial piece of early evidence was a "threatening" letter left on a chair in the hallway of the Hagens' home. The letter demanded Tom Hagen send €9m in monero, a cryptocurrency, to the apparent kidnappers and gave detailed instructions on how to do so.
Monero (XMR-EUR) is a privacy-focused cryptocurrency that was first released in 2014. Anyone can use it to send or request money but no outside observer can tell the source, amount, or destination.
More details have now come to light about the letter. Hanssen said it contained a link to a document on Pasted.co — a site popular among hackers that lets people share plain text. A password was given to access the Pasted.co document: "Anne". Norwegian police believe this suggests the kidnapping was planning well in advance.
The document contained two cryptocurrency addresses. The note said Tom Hagen should send bitcoin to one of the addresses for coded communication, with 12 different amounts meaning 12 different things. The other address was for ransom payments.
In the weeks and months that followed, a trail of anonymous communication took place between people connected to the Pasted.co document and the police. Communications took place through anonymous web browsers such as Tor and over email.
In a final correspondence in July 2019, the kidnappers demanded a payment of part of the €9m monero ransom. With help from the police, Tom Hagen paid €1.35m. After that, the trail went cold and there was no further communication, according to local reports.
The Norwegian police declined to comment.
Anyone who has any information should contact the Norwegian police.
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