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Thailand tows bitcoin trader's floating home; owners may face death sentence

Key Points
  • Thailand's navy has towed a floating home owned by an American bitcoin trader and his Thai girlfriend, according to multiple reports.
  • Chad Elwartowski and his partner Supranee Thepdet lived in the cabin roughly 15 miles from the Thai coast in a self-professed bid to avoid the Thai government's jurisdiction.
  • Authorities have revoked Elwartowski's visa and charged the couple for violating Thai sovereignty — an offense punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.
A Royal Thai navy ship drags a floating home, lived in by an American man and his Thai partner, in the Andaman Sea, off Phuket Island in Thailand, April 22, 2019.
Reuters

The Royal Thai Navy has towed a floating home owned by an American bitcoin trader and his Thai girlfriend, who currently face possible death sentences or life imprisonment for "deteriorating Thailand's independence, " according to multiple reports.

Chad Elwartowski and his partner Supranee Thepdet lived in the cabin roughly 15 miles from the Thai coast to avoid jurisdiction from the Thai government, according to British news outlet Sky News.

Thai authorities have revoked Elwartowski's visa and charged the couple for violating Thai sovereignty — an offense punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment, according to Reuters.

"The couple announced on social media declaring their autonomy beyond the jurisdiction of any courts or law of any countries, including Thailand," Sky News reported Thai Rear Admiral Vithanarat Kochaseni as saying. "We see such action as deteriorating Thailand's independence."

Thailand's navy on Monday sent three boats to dismantle the floating cabin — also known as a "seastead" — and bring it back to shore as evidence, Sky News said.

Elwartowski and Supranee are prominent members of Ocean Builders, a community of "seasteading" entrepreneurs which funded and built the hexagonal cabin.

"Seasteading" is an initiative aimed at establishing floating communities in international waters beyond the influence of government regulation. This movement is spearheaded by nonprofit think-tank The Seasteading Institute, which received $1.7 million in funding from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel in 2008.

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The couple reportedly left the cabin last week after being tipped off about Thailand's plans. Their whereabouts remain unknown, but authorities believe they are in Thailand, Sky News reported.

"This is ridiculous ... we lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed. We are still quite scared for our lives," Sky News reported Elwartowski as saying in a statement.

In a statement released Monday, The Seasteading Institute's chairman Patrick Friedman said he was "shocked and saddened last week by media reports that this couple was charged with treason – punishable in Thailand by death or life imprisonment – simply because no one had filed paperwork for the floating home."

"This is like charging someone with a capital crime for not registering their car," Friedman said.

Ocean Builders, The Royal Thai Navy and Elwartowski did not immediately respond to CNBC requests for comment.

Read more about the couple's seastead home and the Thai Navy's response in Sky News' report.

—Reuters contributed to this report.