How many Bitcoins do Governments own?

Like individuals, governments can also buy or get bitcoins by other means to accumulate in their reserves.

Bitcoin
How many Bitcoins do Governments own? (Photo by André François McKenzie on Unsplash)

Summary

  • It is difficult to estimate how many BTC a government has at any given time since one way to acquire them is through the seizure.

  • Sometimes these countries auction bitcoins and do not keep them in their treasury.

The largest source of income is due to the seizure from financial or terrorist crimes. We see a trend in some countries that accumulate this cryptocurrency for reserve use—a big difference from the past, where the dollar was king for this purpose. It is difficult to determine how much Bitcoin a country has since these figures are often not public unless they are reserves, in case they are the product of a judicial investigation. However, we can make some estimates based on widely known information.

United States

Like many others, the U.S. government owns large amounts of Bitcoins. However, this country has not made many comments about its status, whether they are the product of seizures, the quantities and whether they plan to auction them.


Most of the seized Bitcoins go along with a sealing order, which means that the parties cannot disclose their existence to the public, making it difficult to know exactly how many bitcoins the U.S. government holds.


For example, when the F.B.I. seized the Colonial Pipeline hackers' Bitcoins, they obtained the private key that controlled the wallet. However, the F.B.I. did not comment on how they got it until a judge ordered them to do so. In the Silk Road case, the F.B.I. obtained approximately 144,000 Bitcoins when tracking down the founder in October 2013.

But this was not the total amount held by this black market when authorities cracked on it. An independent specialist had been able to hack into Silk Road's payment system [PDF] and steal 70,000 bitcoins. Shortly after that, the F.B.I. asked him to return them for a total of approximately 175,000 bitcoins in this case.

The U.S. Department of Justice informs about administrative, civil, and criminal seizures on a dedicated website. However, this entity does not usually receive updates regularly, making the task of finding out how much Bitcoin the government owns difficult.

No U.S. agency, including the F.B.I., Internal Revenue Service (IRS), U.S. Attorney's Office, and Secret Service, has the authority to auction or sell these bitcoins. Only the Marshalls are capable of this task. Thus, it is complex to determine the exact amounts beyond the resounding cases to get some estimate.

El Salvador

When it announced that it would adopt Bitcoin as its currency, El Salvador disbursed approximately $71 million to buy near 1,500 Bitcoins, purchased at different prices.

However, the country presided by Nayib Bukele plans to issue a bond for one billion that they'll use to buy more rounds of this cryptocurrency. So we can expect its treasury to increase shortly if these events follow a regular course.

Bulgaria

During a cybercrime seizure, the Bulgarian government seized 200,000 BTC in 2017. Although it is unclear what the fate of these funds was and whether the government is still holding them.

How do governments acquire Bitcoin?

The government has two main paths to take if it wishes to acquire bitcoins. On the one hand, it can obtain them in the market, through an exchange, to add them to its reserves. Or you can get them through some government agency that has seized them due to illegal activity.


However, there are more options; you can also accept payment for different services through this cryptocurrency. Such is the case of people who pay their taxes using bitcoins or those who pay a bail bond using this means.

What do they do with Bitcoins?

Governments, in general, maintain the privacy of what they do with bitcoins and the amounts they have in their possession. Bitcoin's price volatility also does not contribute much to this situation. It is difficult to predict the value of the proceeds obtained, leading some governments to wait a bit before selling them.


While the United States to date has mainly chosen to sell, holding an auction where participants had to deposit $200,000 as collateral, others have decided to hoard them. In the case of the former, the Marshals Service has sold 185,230 bitcoins for approximately $150 million.



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