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DOJ names first director of unit focused on cryptocurrency and crime

Seasoned prosecutor Eun Young Choi has been chosen to lead the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET).
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Written by Jonathan Greig, Staff Writer on

The US Justice Department announced on Thursday that seasoned prosecutor Eun Young Choi has been chosen to lead the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET). 

Before working as senior counsel to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Choi was an Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York serving as the office's Cybercrime Coordinator. She helped lead the investigations into a number of cybercrimes, including a hack involving J.P. Morgan Chase, while also prosecuting those connected to Coin.mx. 

The Harvard graduate previously argued in the appeal case of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht and participated in the only US prosecution brought in connection with the "Panama Papers." Choi is starting work in her new position at NCET today. 

"The department has been at the forefront of investigating and prosecuting crimes involving digital currencies since their inception," said Choi, who will serve as director of NCET. 

"The NCET will play a pivotal role in ensuring that as the technology surrounding digital assets grows and evolves, the department in turn accelerates and expands its efforts to combat their illicit abuse by criminals of all kinds. I am excited to lead the NCET's incredible and talented team of attorneys, and to get to work on this important priority for the department."  

NCET was created last year to tackle "the criminal misuse of cryptocurrencies and digital assets," with a focus on virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, infrastructure providers, and other entities. 

Blockchain analytics company Chainalysis said last month that cybercriminals managed to launder at least $8.6 billion worth of cryptocurrency in 2021, a 30% increase compared to 2020. The company released another report this week highlighting the connections between cybercriminals and a vast crypto exchange infrastructure designed to launder stolen funds.  

The Justice Department is coming off of a streak of successes. A DOJ restraining order revealed that $30 million was seized from NetWalker ransomware affiliate Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for hacking several companies. 

Two weeks ago, the Department of Justice announced the seizure of more than $3.6 billion in cryptocurrency that was stolen during an attack on the Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange in August 2016. The DOJ arrested 34-year-old Ilya Lichtenstein and his 31-year-old wife Heather Morgan for their role in attempting to launder 119,754 bitcoin that were stolen during the attack on the Hong Kong exchange. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco called the seizure the "department's largest financial seizure ever."

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. said NCET will serve as the focal point for the department's efforts to tackle the growth of crime involving cryptocurrency. 

He called Choi an "accomplished leader on cyber and cryptocurrency issues" and noted that the problem has emerged as one of the most important the office deals with. 

"With the rapid innovation of digital assets and distributed ledger technologies, we have seen a rise in their illicit use by criminals who exploit them to fuel cyberattacks and ransomware and extortion schemes; traffic in narcotics, hacking tools and illicit contraband online; commit thefts and scams; and launder the proceeds of their crimes," Polite Jr. said.  

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