Europe

Bitcoin heist: Iceland fugitive says he wants to go home

Handout of Sindri Thor Stefansson's picture Image copyright Iceland police
Image caption Sindri Thor Stefansson was arrested in February

A man who escaped custody in Iceland and got on a passenger plane that was carrying the country's prime minister says he "will be back soon".

Sindri Thor Stefansson is suspected of masterminding the theft of 600 computers to mine virtual currencies.

In a letter, he said he was not guilty, he had been held in Iceland without trial and would take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Talks were under way with Iceland's police to allow him to return, he said.

Mr Stefansson escaped Sogn open prison in rural southern Iceland early on Tuesday and managed to reach Keflavik international airport.

He then took a flight to Sweden with a ticket which had another man's name. An international warrant has been issued for his arrest.

What did he say?

Mr Stefansson said he was not serving a sentence in Iceland and that his period of custody had run out. He said he was told on Monday that he was actually free to go, but that the police would arrest him if he left the prison without an explanation.

"I simply refuse to be in prison of my own free will, especially when the police threaten to arrest me without explanation," he said in a letter to Iceland's Frettabladid newspaper, claiming that he was forced to sign a statement agreeing to remain in custody.

"I'm not trying to say that it was the right decision to leave, I really regret it... I didn't expect an international arrest warrant to be issued against me, as I was legally free to leave, and believed it was out of the question that I would be labelled a fugitive.

"I would never have done this if I didn't believe I was a free man."

There was no evidence that he was involved in the computer heist, he said, "only suspicion".

Without revealing his current location, he said he was given "a roof over my head, a car, false papers if I want them and money" and that he could be on the run "as long as I like".

"It would be no problem if that's what I wanted, but I would rather face this in Iceland, so I'll be back soon."

Icelandic officials have not yet commented on the letter.

What do we know about his escape?

Sindri Thor Stefansson was among 11 people arrested in February in connection with the case.

He was not considered a dangerous inmate and, 10 days before his escape, he had been transferred to Sogn prison, an unfenced facility where inmates reportedly have access to phones and the internet.

Local media reports say he booked his ticket an hour before the flight's departure. Despite using a different name, he paid using his own credit or debit card.

He reportedly escaped the low-security prison through a window and arrived at the airport - some 95km (59 miles) away - by taxi. Police were still trying to locate the driver.

Security cameras showed him carrying hand luggage and a laptop. He was wearing a black cap, blue jeans and white running shoes.

Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, who was on the same flight, was on her way to Sweden to meet five Nordic prime ministers and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

What is the case?

The computers were stolen during four raids on data centres around Iceland, a popular location for such centres because almost 100% of the power generated in Iceland comes from renewable sources and because of the cool climate.

The computers, still missing, are worth $2m (£1.45m). The case has been dubbed by local media as the "Big Bitcoin Heist".

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