US KleptoCapture force to tackle cryptocurrency use in Russian sanction avoidance

According to the DoJ, the team will target "efforts" to use cryptocurrency to circumvent sanctions or launder cash.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The US government has launched a new initiative to tackle the use of cryptocurrency and assets to circumvent new sanctions imposed on Russia.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland, through the US Department of Justice's (DoJ) Office of Public Affairs, announced the creation of "Task Force KleptoCapture." 

The team is described as "an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures that the United States has imposed, along with allies and partners."

A range of sanctions has been imposed on both Russia and Belarus due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is currently on its eighth day. 

Sanctions include the removal of a number of Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial transaction system, travel bans, import and export bans on some goods, and asset freezes. 

KleptoCapture will include "targeting" those who try to use cryptocurrency to avoid US sanctions and those who are trying to launder the "proceeds of foreign corruption" or to "evade US responses to Russian military aggression."

"The Task Force will be fully empowered to use the most cutting-edge investigative techniques -- including data analytics, cryptocurrency tracing, foreign intelligence sources, and information from financial regulators and private sector partners -- to identify sanctions evasion and related criminal misconduct," Garland says. 

In addition, KleptoCapture will be tasked with preventing the "undermining" of sanctions by seizing assets "belonging to sanctioned individuals or assets identified as the proceeds of unlawful conduct" and by investigating alleged attempts to avoid Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and anti-laundering rules in the country. 

"The Justice Department will use all of its authorities to seize the assets of individuals and entities who violate these sanctions," Garland commented. "We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war. Let me be clear: if you violate our laws, we will hold you accountable."

Earlier this week, Ukraine's Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov asked cryptocurrency exchanges to restrict accounts belonging to users in Russia and Belarus. Furthermore, the government official has also requested information from the public on the "cryptowallets of Russian and Belarusian politicians."

On Wednesday, the US Senate approved new legislation that will force organizations to report cyberattacks impacting critical infrastructure to regulators within 72 hours. Senators Rob Portman and Gary Peters said that modernization of existing incident reporting laws is "urgently needed" due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

We've seen a spate of cyberattacks launched against Ukraine in the lead-up to Russia's invasion, and in response, Ukraine has attempted to form an "IT Army."

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