Johor police chief: TNB lost RM8.6m to alleged electricity theft by bitcoin mining syndicate

Johor police chief Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay pointing to pictures of the main suspects at the Seri Alam district police headquarters near Johor Baru, February 17, 2021. — Picture by Ben Tan
Johor police chief Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay pointing to pictures of the main suspects at the Seri Alam district police headquarters near Johor Baru, February 17, 2021. — Picture by Ben Tan

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JOHOR BARU, Feb 17 — The Johor police crippled a bitcoin mining syndicate accused of stealing millions of ringgit worth of electricity with the arrest of seven men in a massive operation covering four districts in the state here this week.

The operation from Monday to Tuesday led to the arrest of the local suspects, aged between 24 and 64, during the integrated operation involving police and Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).

Johor police chief Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said the operation saw the raiding team seize 1,746 units of bitcoin mining machines worth RM2.6 million in 21 premises in Johor Baru South, Seri Alam, Tangkak and Muar.

“Each unit of bitcoin mining machine requires one horsepower, similar to what is used by an air-conditioning unit in 24 hours.

“One unit of this bitcoin machine is available online at a price of RM200 to RM3,000 according to different capacities,” said Ayob Khan during a media conference at the Seri Alam district police headquarters here today.

Initial investigations revealed that the syndicate’s activities have likely caused TNB to lose RM8.6 million in revenue due to such theft.

According to Johor TNB, last year the electricity company suffered losses of around RM90 million due to individuals stealing electricity for bitcoin mining activities.

Ayob Khan said the operation was carried out for a month where investigators conducted intelligence gathering before the police thwarted the syndicate’s activity of modifying electronic wiring with the aim of stealing electricity to carry out bitcoin mining activities in the state.

“The syndicate, which has been active since the beginning of last year, carried out its activities on the top floor of a shophouse to avoid detection by the authorities,” he said.

The state’s top cop explained that the arrested suspects acted as the “keepers” of the premises to ensure that the bitcoin mining operation ran smoothly apart from ensuring that accidents were minimised.

With the arrest of the suspects, he said the police believe that the syndicate has been crippled.

“The police are conducting further investigations to track down the mastermind of the syndicate and other members who are still at large.

“Investigators are not ruling out the possibility that the syndicate also has links with syndicates in other states that carry out the same modus operandi used in their bitcoin mining activities,” said Ayob Khan.

The investigation is being conducted under Sections 379 and 427 of the Penal Code for electricity theft and committing mischief by causing damage to TNB property.

Separately, TNB will also take action under Section 37 (3) of the Electricity Supply Act 1990 on account owners registered with the electricity company.

Ayob Khan said police are looking at applying action under the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA).

He said this was because the activity has caused TNB and the government to suffer millions of ringgit in losses.

The suspects have been remanded until tomorrow to assist the investigation under Section 117 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

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