Ukraine-Russia War: ‘KleptoCapture’ Task Force to Sniff Out Crypto Exchanges in US That Could Be Evading Sanctions

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The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has established a new task force to ensure that cryptocurrencies are not used by Russians to hide or move money around amid Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine. Named ‘KleptoCapture’, this task force has been put in place to sniff around for any financial institution, including crypto exchanges, that may have helped Russian businesses and individuals violate US sanctions and move their money around. As a result of its military attacks on Ukraine, Russia has been subjected to several penalties prohibiting economic support to it from the US and other nations.

The team is being headed by Andrew Adams, a prosecutor who is currently a co-head of the money laundering and transnational criminal enterprises unit at the Manhattan US Attorney’s office, The Wall Street Journal said in a recent report.

“The mission of the task force will include targeting efforts to use cryptocurrency to evade US sanctions, launder proceeds of foreign corruption, or evade US responses to Russian military aggression,” the DoJ said in a statement.

Other financial institutions including banks and money transmission services that fail to maintain adequate anti-money laundering policies will also be under the scanner by the KleptoCapture task force.

The rather catchy name of DoJ’s new arm is a sharp dig at Russian biggies who could be playing a role in supporting Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine. KleptoCapture, the name, is derived from the word ‘kleptocracy’ which refers to corrupt people who use their power to gather and store wealth unlawfully.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland first announced the formation of the KleptoCapture task force on March 2. The role and responsibilities of this new wing gained more definition as the days passed.

“The Justice Department will use all of its authorities to seize the assets of individuals and entities who violate these sanctions. 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,” Garland said in a statement.

The task force will be using cryptocurrency tracing techniques, along with data analytics and foreign intelligence sources to identify violators of US’ sanctions on Russia.

Decentralised and largely untraceable in nature, crypto assets could potentially be exploited by notorious elements during times such as the Ukraine-Russia war, several nations fear.

War-torn Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov has requested all major crypto exchanges to block Russian users for the time being.

Last week, Hillary Clinton, the former US first lady and presidential candidate, had said that if crypto exchanges block Russian users, the economy of Russia would get isolated, which may spell the end of its attack on Ukraine.

US Senator Eliabeth Warren is also working on a bill that would ensure that the use of cryptocurrency does not undermine US sanctions imposed on Russia.

While crypto exchanges based in the US have been adhering to sanctions, they have refrained from blocking all Russian accounts saying it would be unfair to innocent Russian crypto holders.

Coinbase, for instance, recently claimed that it suspended services for over 25,000 addresses related to Russian individuals or entities believed to be engaged in illicit activities including sanction evasions.


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