- Venezuelan authorities seized Bitcoin mining machines and heavy weaponry, including rocket launchers, from Tocoron prison during a raid targeting the Tren de Aragua gang.
- The country’s frequent electricity blackouts and a temporary ban on cryptocurrency mining have led to increased scrutiny of such operations, especially after a corruption scheme involving crypto wallets was uncovered.
- The prison, run by the gang, had lavish facilities like a restaurant, pool, and even a zoo; four prison guards were arrested for suspected involvement, and some inmates managed to escape during the raid.
Venezuelan authorities have seized a collection of Bitcoin mining machines from the Tocoron prison. The operation also uncovered an array of heavy weaponry, including rocket launchers and grenades. Over 11,000 police and soldiers, backed by tanks and armored vehicles, stormed the prison. They targeted the Tren de Aragua gang, which had been using the prison as its Latin American base for years, according to a report by AFP
Bitcoin mining has gained popularity in Venezuela due to the country’s hyperinflation and near-zero electricity costs. However, many seized machines appeared to be older versions of Bitmain’s Antminers.
Consequently, the profitability of this particular operation remains unclear. Bitcoin mining involves the use of specialized computers, known as ASICs, to solve complex computational problems. This process is crucial for introducing new coins into circulation and maintaining network security.
The backdrop: Energy crisis and regulatory crackdowns
Venezuela has been grappling with frequent electricity blackouts, leading authorities to crack down on cryptocurrency mining facilities. A temporary ban on mining cryptocurrencies has effectively stifled an industry once promoted in the country. The ban came into effect in March, following an investigation into an alleged corruption scheme involving crypto wallets and state-owned oil firm PDVSA.
Interior and Justice Minister Remigio Ceballos revealed that four prison guards were arrested on suspicion of aiding the gang. The government has relocated its 1,600 inmates, although some managed to escape during the raid. The prison, installed by the gang, boasted a range of facilities including a restaurant, pool, gambling rooms, disco, baseball field, and even a zoo. Some inmates’ partners also resided there and were evicted during the operation.
Moreover, the raid led to the discovery of additional items such as sniper rifles, explosives, bullets, machine gun ammunition belts, and grenades. According to Ceballos, the gang leaders had been keeping other prisoners in “a kind of slavery.”
While the Venezuelan government has previously shown interest in cryptocurrencies, even announcing plans to back its national cryptocurrency, the Petro, with barrels of oil, this latest development adds a new layer of complexity to the ongoing debate around the regulation of cryptocurrency mining.
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