Chinese Nationals Charged With $100m Crypto Money Laundering

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Two Chinese nationals have been indicted and placed under sanctions after being accused by the US government of helping to launder over $100m in cryptocurrency funds stolen by North Korean hackers.

Tian Yinyin and Li Jiadong were charged with money laundering conspiracy and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, although they’re unlikely to face trial in the US.

Between December 2017 and April 2019 they’re accused of laundering over $100m in virtual currency stolen from exchanges and elsewhere by Pyongyang’s infamous state-backed Lazarus Group.

One of these hacks was a massive $250m heist at an unnamed exchange in 2018, while another involved the theft of $48.5m in virtual currency from a South Korean exchange in November 2019.

In the case of the $250m theft, Tian moved $34m of $91m transferred to the duo to a Chinese bank account, and transferred $1.4m into iTunes gift cards, according to the US Treasury.

It’s also claimed that their North Korean co-conspirators bypassed virtual currency exchange know-your-customer controls by submitting doctored photographs and identification documents. In total, 113 virtual currency accounts and addresses were allegedly used to launder funds.

Although the two are unlikely to face justice, the Treasury has slapped them with sanctions which mean that any of their “property and interests in property” that might be in the US or under control of US persons “must be blocked and reported to Office of Foreign Assets Control.”

North Korea has long targeted cryptocurrency exchanges as a method of skirting US sanctions to fill the Kim Jong-un regime’s coffers. A UN report from 2019 claimed that state-backed hackers have managed to amass as much as $2bn by targeting these and regular banks with malware.

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