The US government has started auctioning a fifth of the amount of bitcoins it had seized in an FBI investigation of the Silk Road online marketplace. It hopes to secure millions of dollars through the sale.
US government officials on Friday began auctioning some 29,000 bitcoins, or 20 percent of the virtual currency they confiscated during a raid last October on the Silk Road online market, a hub for transactions involving illegal drugs and other criminal activities.
Bidders had to register last week, with the winners to be notified next Monday, the US Marshals Service said in a statement.
US authorities have another wallet of over 144,000 bitcoins, which likely makes Washington the largest holder of the controversial cryptocurrency that some refuse to call a currency at all.
Staunch supporters of bitcoins have argued the unit allows for an efficient and anonymous way of storing and transferring funds online. But government officials and economists have often criticized the lack of regulation, linking bitcoins to money laundering and organized crime.
Boston University finance lecturer Mark Williams said with Friday's auction the US government was simply starting to unload its holdings, given the virtual currency's extreme volatility.
"This auction doesn't validate bitcoins, but simply demonstrates that the US government is anxious to get out before prices drop again." Currently, one bitcoin sells for just under $600 (440 euros).
hg/sgb (Reuters, AFP, Reuters, dpa)