As the US and its allies stepped up sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, the US Justice Department announced the formation of a new cryptocurrency task force that will go after crypto exchanges that assist Russian oligarchs move their money.
The “Kleptocapture” cryptocurrency task force, according to a statement issued by the Department of Justice on Thursday, would be made up of experts in export control enforcement, anti-money laundering, asset forfeiture, tax enforcement, and abroad evidence acquisition.
The cryptocurrency task force will be overseen by a seasoned US corruption prosecutor from the New York Attorney’s Office’s Southern District.
Leading crypto-trading platforms, such as Coinbase and FTX, claim to be in compliance with sanctions and already adhere to the exact norms of traditional financial institutions in gathering data on their customers and identifying suspicious transactions.
In this context, Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange located in San Francisco, revealed last Monday that it had suspended 25,000 accounts associated with Russian customers it suspected of engaged in unlawful behavior.
The United States Treasury Department also released a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) recommendation, encouraging financial institutions, such as those mentioned above, to be “vigilant” of Russian oligarchs and government entities attempting to avoid sanctions by using bitcoin.
Over the last week, cryptocurrency exchanges throughout the world have been under pressure to restrict transactions with Russia. However, since the beginning of the invasion on Ukraine, trade between the Russian ruble and cryptocurrencies has more than doubled.
The warning comes as many in the cryptocurrency industry respond to lawmakers’ concerns that digital assets may be used to dodge Western sanctions imposed on Russia. Wall Street, jewelry businesses, insurance, banks, and casinos were singled out as particularly vulnerable.
In early trade, the Ruble dipped against the US dollar. Fears of bank runs are growing in Russia as the devaluation threatens to exacerbate inflation, which some estimate to be as high as 70%.
To stem the collapse of the Ruble, Russia’s central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to 20% on Friday. Foreigners are not permitted to sell domestic equities in Russia, while local exporters are required to liquidate a substantial percentage of their foreign currency holdings.
Meanwhile, the Kleptocapture task force will be given broad authority to identify sanctions evasion and related criminal misconduct through the use of cutting-edge investigative techniques such as data analytics, cryptocurrency tracing, foreign intelligence sources, and relevant data from financial regulatory agencies and private sector partners.
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