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Criminal Justice

How a Cryptocurrency Robbery in SF Led to an International Manhunt in Taiwan

Written by Han LiPublished Jun. 06, 2022 • 3:08pm
A screenshot of Tianze Zhang being escorted by Taiwanese officials. Zhang was a fugitive who was captured by SFPD and Taiwanese official after he allegedly stole $3 million a person in San Francisco. Courtesy Criminal Investigation Bureau, National Police Agency

English

The intruder was unrecognizable in ski goggles and a hood—but he seemed to know exactly what he wanted from the victim when he bound her in duct tape and forced her to relinquish a fortune in digital currency.

Two months later—in an investigation that took authorities from that home invasion in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood to Taiwan—police are saying the masked man targeted a former employer at knifepoint to pilfer $3 million in cryptocurrency.

The story made international headlines after SFPD announced over the weekend how an international manhunt, with help from the FBI, led them to extradite Tianze Zhang, 30.

A screenshot of a press conference of Dustin Lee, right, head of International Criminal Affairs Division, Criminal Investigation Bureau addressing the media on Monday, June 6 in Taiwan following the capture of Tianze Zhang. Criminal Investigation Bureau, National Police Agency

Here’s what we gleaned about the case from Chinese-language coverage:

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  • Crime on a former boss. The victim—described as a 32-year-old Asian woman in the police report—once employed Zhang, according to Taiwanese officials. Because they knew each other, Zhang was fully covered to be “unrecognizable” and used an iPad to type commands to the victim during the home invasion.
  • Zhang hid in a car trunk to escape police. Authorities say Zhang—a U.S. passport holder and Los Angeles resident—used a business visa to enter Taiwan on March 18, two days after the robbery. When Zhang finished the local quarantine, officials say a Taiwanese woman he met through a dating app helped him evade police by going from city to city. In a surveillance video shown on Taiwan’s TV, Zhang was seen hiding in a car trunk to escape the police.
Surveillance footage of Tianze Zhang, right, after crawling out of the back of a vehicle while in hiding. Mr. Zhang was a fugitive who had allegedly robbed $3 million from a person in San Francisco. Criminal Investigation Bureau, National Police Agency
  • He tried to flee to the Philippines. Zhang was arrested in Kaohsiung, a coastal city in southern Taiwan, before officials say he tried to flee to the Philippines by boat. TV broadcasts aired scenes from his arrest and perp-walk through the airport.
A screenshot of Tianze Zhang, right, a fugitive who had allegedly robbed $3 million from a person in San Francisco. He was captured in Taiwan. Criminal Investigation Bureau, National Police Agency
  • Hardware “wallets” recovered. Zhang allegedly put the $3 million in cryptocurrency in USB-style hardware called the CoolWallet. He cashed out some of the cryptocurrency in Taiwan to pay for his fugitive trip, officials say, and used some of the proceeds to persuade women he met on dating apps that he was a rich businessman traveling to Taiwan from the U.S.

Zhang is now jailed in San Francisco while the District Attorney’s Office decides how to charge him.

English

Han Li can be reached at [email protected]


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