Australian Officer Under Scrutiny for Alleged Cryptocurrency Theft

Sahana Kiran
Source – Unsplash

In an unforeseen turn of events, the convergence of law enforcement and the cryptocurrency realm has sparked controversy. William Wheatley, a federal police officer, now faces legal proceedings. He was charged with appropriating a significant quantity of cryptocurrency purportedly seized during an investigation into an online drug trafficking network.

Currently experiencing a committal hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, Wheatley is charged with theft, handling suspected crime proceeds, and exploiting privileged information for personal gain. These allegations stem from charges brought against him by the now-defunct Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity in December 2022.

Cryptocurrency Misappropriation

Court documents allege that Wheatley unlawfully obtained 81.616 Bitcoin from a wallet. This was discovered during an inquiry into drug and steroid trafficking through postal channels in January 2019.

Cyber Crime Squad Detective Sergeant Deon Achtypis testified to Wheatley’s involvement following a raid on a Hoppers Crossing residence on Jan. 25, 2019, as part of Operation Viridian. The operation, led by the Icarus Taskforce— a collaboration between Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police— unearthed significant quantities of substances resembling steroids.


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Cryptocurrency Tracing

Evidence from the raid suggested the use of an encrypted email service for drug transactions, with Bitcoin enabling payments. Subsequently, a Trezor-brand hardware cryptocurrency wallet was discovered and handed over to Icarus detectives.

Approval was granted three weeks later to rebuild access to the digital wallet. This reveals that the Bitcoin had been transferred shortly after its seizure. The funds, valued at approximately $450,000 at the time, were subsequently transferred to other digital wallets, complicating tracking efforts.

Bank Transactions and Testimonies

Further investigation by cryptocurrency expert Craig Gillespie revealed transactions from the wallet traced to withdrawals into Wheatley’s bank account. This was between 2019 and 2022. AFP officer Jesse Wyatt testified that he contacted Wheatley, described as a “specialist” in the AFP’s cybercrime division, upon discovering the cryptocurrency wallet during the raid.

Wheatley’s defense lawyer, Luke Barker, argued that the case against his client relies on circumstantial evidence, showing their intent to challenge the allegations.

This case underscores the intricate challenges at the intersection of law enforcement and cryptocurrency, exposing potential vulnerabilities within the system.

Also Read: Australia’s Central Bank Warms to Digital Currency as the Future of Money