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US sanctions against North Korean cryptocurrency conglomerate

WASHINGTON – The US announced on Friday that it is sanctioning North Korean digital currency conglomerate Blender.io, which the country allegedly uses to launder stolen virtual currencies and facilitate cybercrime.

The sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control are the first ever imposed on a digital asset mixing service. The new sanctions also point to the increasing use of digital assets to perpetuate illegal actions by state actors and individuals.

Mixing services combine various assets, including potentially illegally obtained funds and lawfully obtained funds, allowing illegal actors to disguise the origin of stolen funds.

Blender is accused of helping the Lazarus Group, a sanctioned North Korean cyber-hacking group, pull off a $620 million digital currency heist in March, the largest of its kind to date.

According to Treasury, Blender has helped process over $20.5 million in digital currency. The Lazarus Group was identified as a state-sponsored cybercriminal group in September 2019.

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Four wallets, or virtual currency addresses, associated with the Lazarus Group have also been added to the Treasury Department’s list of sanctioned entities.

“The United States remains committed to seeking diplomacy with the DPRK and encourages dialogue with the DPRK,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “At the same time, we will continue to address the DPRK’s illegal cyber activities as well as violations of UN Security Council resolutions.”

DPRK is an acronym for the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.

Treasury Department Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said virtual currency mixers that facilitate illicit transactions “pose a threat to US national security interests.”

“We take action against DPRK’s illegal financial activities and will not allow state-sponsored theft and its money laundering opportunities to go unanswered,” he said.

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Last month, the US imposed its first set of penalties on a cryptocurrency mining company in connection with Russia’s war on war. Digital currency company Bitriver AG and 10 of its subsidiaries have been included in a sanctions package by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Legislators and administration officials have raised concerns about using cryptocurrency to engage in illegal activities.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/06/us-sanctions-north-korean-cryptocurrency-mixing-firm/ US sanctions against North Korean cryptocurrency conglomerate

Justin Scacco

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