Alleged bitcoin heist mastermind reportedly escapes from Iceland prison, goes to airport and flies away


Prison breaks, in the movies at least, often involve digging with MacGyvered tools or rappelling down walls using ropes fashioned from bedsheets, but one man reportedly didn’t need any of the classic escape techniques when he disappeared from a rural low-security prison in Iceland on Tuesday.

Officials said Sindri Thor Stefansson, who is suspected of orchestrating one of the biggest heists Iceland has ever seen, simply climbed out of a window, according to the Guardian.

After vanishing from the prison, Stefansson reportedly traveled about 60 miles to Iceland’s international airport in Keflavik, where he allegedly boarded a flight to Sweden on the same plane reportedly carrying the country’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, according to the Iceland Review. The coincidence, based on an account by a passenger, has not been confirmed by authorities.

RUV, an Icelandic news site, published a surveillance camera image it said was Stefansson, wearing a black baseball cap and jacket, strolling through the airport, suitcase in tow.

By the time guards realized he was gone, Stefansson was reportedly at 35,000 feet and on his way to freedom, according to the BBC.

Police believe Stefansson used a plane ticket under another name, but said it was “unlikely” he had to present a passport at the airport since Iceland and Sweden are part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel zone, according to the Associated Press.

“Swedish police have, as have other European countries, been informed by Iceland about a detained man who has escaped,” Swedish national police spokeswoman Malin Nafver told Reuters.

Despite authorities’ efforts, Stefansson is still in the wind, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

Stefansson was one of 11 people arrested in February for allegedly stealing about 600 computers used to mine the cryptocurrency bitcoin and other virtual currencies, Reuters reported.

The small island country in the North Atlantic has become a hotbed for cryptocurrency mining because of its abundance of renewable power sources and its cold climate, The Washington Post has reported. About 80 percent of Iceland’s energy comes from hydroelectric power, which provides data-mining centers with reliable, cheap power. The chill weather helps to keep servers from overheating.

Dubbed the “Big Bitcoin Heist,” thieves made off with about $2 million in equipment in burglaries Icelandic officials called “a grand theft on a scale unseen before,” according to the AP. Even if the computers aren’t sold, the thieves could use them to create new bitcoin and turn a profit in an untraceable currency, AP reported.

The computers have not yet been located and owners have announced a $60,000 reward for information, the Guardian reported.

Stefansson, who is suspected of organizing the grand heist, was moved to the minimum-security prison about a week and a half ago, according to AP. The prison has no fence and inmates have access to phones and the Internet, according to the Iceland Review.

“He had an accomplice,” police chief Gunnar Schram told Visir, a local news outlet. “We are sure of that.”

Helgi Gunnlaugsson, a sociology professor at the University of Iceland, told the Guardian it was unusual for a high-profile prisoner, such as Stefansson, to be moved, but even stranger was an organized prison break.

“Prison breaks in Iceland usually mean someone just fled to get drunk,” he said. “The underworlds are tiny and it is extremely difficult to hide, let alone flee the country.”

In fact, Stefansson’s suspected criminal dealings seem like ripe fodder for Steven Soderbergh films, with one Twitter user asking if his story is “reality or the plot of one of those random Norwegian cop shows on Netflix.”

If it’s not already a show, people are calling for it to be.

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