North Korea is Using Cryptocurrency to Evade U.S. Sanctions: Experts

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Two Washington-based financial experts say that North Korea is increasingly using cryptocurrency to evade U.S. Sanctions.

According to Lourdes Miranda, a financial crimes investigator specialized in intelligence collection and analysis, and Ross Delston, an expert witness who specializes in anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, Pyongyang is creating its own cryptocurrency and is likely also using popular cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Cryptocurrencies are being preferred by international criminals and for terrorist financing, and the country of North Korea is no exception, the duo said in a written statement to Asia Times. They said:

“Crypto-currencies have the added advantage to the DPRK of giving them more ways to circumvent US sanctions.”

They added, “They can do so by using multiple international exchangers, mixing and shifting services – mirroring the money laundering cycle – to exploit international financial institutions that have correspondent banking relationships with the United States.”

According to Priscilla Moriuchi, a former NSA cybersecurity official, North Korea is earning around $15 million to $200 million by mining and selling cryptocurrencies. Speaking to The Hill earlier this year, Moriuchi said:

“North Korea has pursued other avenues for obtaining cryptocurrencies as well, including mining of both bitcoin and Monero, ransom paid in bitcoin from the global WannaCry attack in May and even commissioning a cryptocurrency class for North Korean students in November.”

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Now, per the Asia Times report, Miranda and Delston stated that North Korea could use the most popular cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, or the country’s government could create its own.

“Having their own crypto-currency would also facilitate their ability to open online accounts under the guise of a non-adversarial nation using anonymous communication to conceal the user’s locations and usage on the internet,” they stated.

The researchers also said that the country would create its own blockchain in order to alter their public record of transactions to show that these transactions are coming from legitimate sources. Further, the country would create its own cryptocurrency wallet services.

Explaining about the making of successful exchange of crypto into fiat currencies — all the while undetected — the pair said that North Korean-mined cryptocurrencies would be laundered onto European exchanges, enabling the rogue nation to obtain USD “with none of those pesky sanctions attached.” The investigators are not sure about the current scale of North Korea’s crypto-currency operation.

As CCN reported, America’s rivals including Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela have recently turned to cryptocurrencies in order to counter economic pressure from the U.S. and its allies.

For example, the petro, an oil-backed cryptocurrency announced by Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, was banned in the United States. Earlier in May, President Trump issued an executive order banning American citizens from buying, trading, or dealing with the petro cryptocurrency “in light of recent actions taken by the Maduro regime to attempt to circumvent U.S. sanctions by issuing a digital currency.”

Also, Iran has recently revealed the details of its national cryptocurrency in response to U.S.-led economic sanctions. Iran’s future cryptocurrency is allegedly backed by the fiat Rial and is developed on the Linux Foundation-led open-source Hyperledger Fabric technology, the report said.

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