U.S. slaps additional N. Korea, Iran-related sanctions

November 29, 2023

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced additional North Korea and Iran-related sanctions on Wednesday, after Pyongyang’s space rocket launch last week and tensions with the Islamic republic over Tehran-backed militants’ attacks in the Middle East.

The department added Sinbad.io — a cryptocurrency mixer thought to be linked to Lazarus, a North Korean hacker group — and other individuals and entities to its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)’s sanctions list, according to its website. OFAC enforces economic sanctions.

It described Sinbad as a key money-laundering tool of the Lazarus Group, noting that Sinbad processed millions of dollars’ worth of virtual currency from Lazarus Group heists.

“Mixing services that enable criminal actors, such as the Lazarus Group, to launder stolen assets will face serious consequences,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo was quoted as saying in a press release.

“The Treasury Department and its U.S. government partners stand ready to deploy all tools at their disposal to prevent virtual currency mixers, like Sinbad, from facilitating illicit activities,” he added.

Seoul and Washington have stepped up efforts to prevent the North’s cryptocurrency theft and other cybercrimes as they can be used to generate funds to bankroll its nuclear and missile programs.

In a recent report, the U.N. Panel of Experts on U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against the North said that Sinbad had laundered close to US$100 million in Bitcoin from hacks attributed to the Lazarus Group. The report cited an analysis by Blockchain research company Elliptic.

Citing an estimate from another firm, Chainanalysis, the panel also said that the North’s state-sponsored hackers were responsible for cryptocurrency theft worth nearly $1.7 billion last year.

The designations came after Pyongyang launched a space rocket to put a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit last week. Seoul and Washington view the launch as a violation of multiple UNSC resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology.

Accusing Iran of generating revenue to fund its “destabilizing” regional activities and support multiple proxy groups, including the Hamas militant group, the Treasury Department sanctioned more than 20 individuals and entities.

“The United States remains committed to exposing elements of the Iranian military and its complicit partners abroad to disrupt this critical source of funds,” Treasury’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said.