A man described in court on Monday how his crypto wallet of $700,000 was reduced to zero within seconds of handing over his mobile phone to a man now charged with fraud.
The 27-year old victim, Dillon Attard, took the witness stand to testify against Luke Milton, a 25-year old company director who is pleading not guilty to misappropriation and fraud, cryptocurrency theft, money laundering as well as various breaches of the Virtual Financial Assets Act.
The two had met for lunch at a Sliema restaurant after Milton sought help to make a €5,000 blockchain investment on the phone.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I took the mobile back and saw that my wallet balance was zero,” said the witness, his tone agitated as he recalled the events of that lunchtime meeting with the accused.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I took the mobile back and saw that my wallet was zero
“As reality seeped in, I just snatched the phone. He didn’t resist. My only thought was to secure my funds,” Attard said, explaining that he had placed both phones next to each other, helplessly watching the outgoing transaction and realizing “the fraud in [his] face.”
His first thought had been to redirect the funds from the accused’s mobile back to his own crypto wallet, but he soon realised that the transaction was being sent to another trust wallet.
“Couldn’t you stop the outgoing transaction?” asked the prosecution.
“You can never stop a blockchain transaction once sent,” explained the victim, adding that reversal of the transaction was not possible without access to the decentralised wallet to which it was sent.
Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech said the public needed to be aware of the risks at play so as not to be cast under a shadow like the accused in the proceedings, nor land in a situation as alleged by the victim.
During his lengthy and somewhat technical testimony, Attard gave a step-by-step account of events leading up to that lunch on June 16 when 424,670.97 Unizen crypto currency tokens were allegedly siphoned from his virtual wallet right under his nose.
Although Attard had warned Milton about the volatility of the market that day, Milton had insisted on going ahead with the transaction, engaging Attard's help in converting the currency.
That was when Attard handed over his mobile across the table, for his lunch companion to scan the barcode on his crypto wallet.
But in those brief seconds, Milton must have pressed the “maximization” button, then “send,” and finally “confirm,” all in rapid succession, Attard said, appearing agitated.
And all the while Milton had been acting “as though everything was normal,” he recalled.
As reality dawned on him, Attard said he messaged two friends of his who were members of the police corps, alerting them to the suspect fraud and summoning them to his assistance.
Until police arrived on site, the suspect fraudster had taken back possession of his phone and refused to allow Attard to browse freely through its contents.
When police did turn up, Milton allegedly admitted to sending the transaction “but then didn’t know what happened,” seeking to shift blame onto Attard.
Milton had claimed that Attard had done something wrong when both phones were in his possession, the flustered witness concluded.
Attard said he tried to remain calm until police arrived at the restaurant, trying to keep an eye on Milton to stop him from deleting anything on his phone.
The episode had apparently been caught on footage from the restaurant, the witness added, as the accused sat motionless and expressionless throughout the testimony.
The two had met days before the incident after the victim had stumbled across a blockchain project while exploring the options of a cryptocurrency loan.
A series of phone calls from a male caller and a meeting at a Burmarrad office between the victim, the accused and a third party identified as Milton’s business partner eventually led to that fateful encounter when the swindle allegedly took place.
The case continues.
Inspector Anthony Scerri together with AG lawyers Karl Muscat and Francesco Refalo prosecuted.
Lawyers Charles Mercieca and Matthew Xuereb were defence counsel.
Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri appeared parte civile.
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