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Man convicted of Iceland's biggest heist escapes prison, lands in Sweden

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Man convicted of Iceland's biggest heist escapes prison, lands in Sweden

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It would, as they say, make a great film script.

A man in remote southern Iceland walks out of a low-security prison which has no fence and makes his way to the nearest international airport around a hundred kilometres away.

Using another passenger's ticket he boards a commercial plane to Sweden, which just so happens to also be carrying Iceland's Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir on board. He is later identified on Keflavik airport's CCTV cameras.

The escape actually happened on Wednesday and there is now an international arrest warrant out for the man, Sindri Thor Steffanson.

His crime? Stealing around 600 specialist computers used to mine the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Steffanson was among 11 people arrested on February 2 on suspicion of taking the computers with an estimated value of 1.6 million euros, Icelandic police said at the time.

No criminal case in peaceful Iceland has ever involved larger sums of money.

Iceland's bitcoin boom

But what is the connection between the infamous digital currency and a sparsely populated and cold North Atlantic island state?

Bitcoin companies require massive amounts of electricity to run the computers that create bitcoins and

Iceland has an abundance of cheap, renewable energy. The powerful computers also need to be cooled, which is of course cheaper to do using Arctic air.

Iceland has a plentiful supply of volcanoes and it has established a network of environmenally friendly geothermal and hydroelectric plants.

The carbon footprint of the currency is gigantic. According to figures from The Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, which was established specifically to monitor its consumption, just one bitcoin transaction requires more energy than ten US households.

And now, in another film-plot sounding twist, the bitcoin industry is expected to use more power than the islanders themselves.

Next year it will take around 100 megawatts of energy to “mine” bitcoins and other virtual currencies - which is more energy than is used in all the homes of Iceland's tiny 340,000 population.

The boom has prompted lawmaker Smari McCarthy of Iceland’s Pirate Party to suggest taxing the profits of bitcoin mines.

The initiative is likely to be well received by Icelanders, who are sceptical of speculative financial ventures after the country’s catastrophic 2008 banking crash.