A court has ordered confiscation of BRL172m ($33.1m, €28.1m) and the freezing of bank accounts of two individuals and 17 companies while Sao Paulo state police probe alleged money laundering through bitcoin trading.

The police say their investigation is centred on some brokers transacting vast amounts of business by buying and selling the virtual currency for fictitious companies to give the accused access to the banking system.

One of these brokerages dealt almost exclusively with the shell companies, trading around BRL10m in virtual currencies with at least six fictitious companies in five months. Another eight companies acquired about BRL15m in virtual coins, during the same period.

The police believe the brokers did not verify their clients’ legitimacy nor check the origins of the transactions and were acting for a criminal organisation laundering money through crypto currencies. They were sending money to offshore companies with the intention of later repatriating it by the simulation of sales or services.

The Brazilian court made its confiscation and freezing orders after the police executed six search warrants in Sao Paulo and the nearby city of Diadema.

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