Crypto’s impact on sanctions: Are regulators’ concerns justified?

The crypto market is on the verge of explosive growth. As a result, regulators are scrambling to set rules and regulations that will best protect investors while still ensuring adoption within their jurisdiction. These two goals aren’t always compatible, especially when it comes to sanctions laws which require strict compliance with international regulations by all parties involved in order for any trade or transaction to happen.

The “bitcoin regulation” is a question that has been asked for quite some time. Are regulators’ concerns justified?

Crypto’s impact on sanctions: Are regulators’ concerns justified?


Since the inception of cryptocurrencies, regulators have been concerned about the use of cryptocurrencies to evade international sanctions imposed by various international governmental organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, among others.

With the introduction of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) like the digital yuan, the fast acceptance of digital currencies in the past two years has made this topic more crucial than ever. 

Wally Adeyemo, the US Deputy Treasury Secretary, indicated in an interview on November 17 that the effectiveness of US sanctions will not be harmed by central bank digital currencies. 

Adeyemo’s statements echo those of sanctioned Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska, who pushed the Russian government to adopt Bitcoin to circumvent US sanctions and even undercut the US dollar’s supremacy. “The United States has long ago grasped that uncontrolled digital payments are capable of not only nullifying the efficacy of the whole system of economic sanctions but also bringing the dollar down as a whole,” Deripaska stated.

The Biden administration has taken a tough stance against bitcoin companies that support such causes in general. It determined bitcoin exchanges to be responsible for allowing ransomware assaults to be carried out via competing nations. 

Related: A jury will hear testimony from an Ethereum developer accused of assisting North Korea in evading sanctions.

Ransomware assaults are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cybercrime.

Suex, an over-the-counter broker, was sanctioned by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in September, adding it to a list of Specially Designated Nationals whose assets are frozen and any U.S. citizens are forbidden from transacting with them. The government agency also named the broker’s offices in Moscow and Prague as part of its penalties, as well as 25 cryptocurrency addresses for Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH), and Tether (USDT) (USDT).

The government sanctioned the cryptocurrency exchange Chatex on Nov. 8 and confiscated $6.1 million in cryptocurrency tokens from the company. Both of these exchanges were shut down for the same reason: they accepted bitcoins that were used to pay ransomware criminals.

Ari Redbord, the director of legal and government relations at TRM Labs, a blockchain intelligence system, spoke with Cointelegraph about the penalties. Redbord formerly worked at the US Treasury as a senior advisor to the Deputy Secretary and Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. 

“These are non-compliance nested exchanges or parasite virtual asset service providers that nest on the infrastructure of bigger compliant exchanges in order to benefit from their speed and liquidity,” Redbord told Cointelegraph.

These exchanges operate in the shadows of a generally lawful cryptocurrency ecosystem and lack basic compliance processes to prevent illegal financial risks. Redbord went on to say more about the administration’s perspective on the matter:

“The government has said unequivocally that ransomware is not a crypto issue. It’s a cyber issue, therefore bolstering cyber defenses should be the priority. Treasury has been extremely deliberate in its activities, focusing on the crypto ecosystem’s criminal underbelly — such as parasitic VASPs and darknet mixing services — rather than the largely licit and rising crypto economy.”

Regulators are also concerned about terrorist funding via cryptocurrency. Indeed, it is one of the main drivers behind the Indian regulator’s decision to prohibit cryptocurrencies, which sparked a panic sell-off in the area when the news broke.

According to Redbord, there has been a worldwide transition to a “post-post” 9-11 world in which the battleground is now mostly digital during the previous year. “We’ve seen cryptocurrencies exploited by nation-state actors like North Korea in terrorist funding, ransomware payments, and systematic money laundering,” he said. But, in order to limit the threats presented by these criminal actors, law enforcement has used blockchain analytics tools […] to detect and trace the movement of cash.”

Because the majority of cryptocurrencies and the blockchains that support them are open-source, law enforcement, regulators, and financial institutions can see the movement of money more easily than they can with fiat-based transaction methods. However, in order to properly guarantee that cryptocurrencies are not used to evade sanctions, financial regulators must have a better grasp of the asset class and the technology that underpins it.

“Governments and financial institutions have not yet learnt how to operate with cryptocurrencies, therefore they may be selected to conduct crimes,” Charlie Chen, chief marketing officer of decentralized finance system Horizon Finance, told Cointelegraph. The Silk Road’s story is one of many throughout the globe. There have been convictions in genuine criminal instances using cryptocurrency, indicating that there is proof.”

Iranian General Proposes Using Cryptography to Avoid Sanctions

CBDCs are expected to have a little influence on punishments.

Central bank digital currencies are another facet of the cryptoverse that might have an influence on the sanctions. With the most sophisticated CBDC scheme — the Digital Currency Electronic Payment or the digital yuan — China is presently the leader in CBDCs. 

Major Chinese banks with business in the United States have already taken preliminary moves to comply with US sanctions. However, others have expressed concern that the acceptance of the CBDC in global markets might cause the dollar to depreciate over time unless the US keeps up with China’s agenda.

Chen, on the other hand, feels that CBDCs are unlikely to be utilized to circumvent economic penalties. “At the present, the majority of foreign transactions are conducted in US dollars, and Russian enterprises will find it difficult to convince their partners to forgo USD transactions in favor of a digital ruble,” he stated.

He went on to say that current methods and algorithms for monitoring transactions can already identify suspicious transactions, and that these processes would only improve and become more efficient in the future. 

There are now no impediments to using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to pay a sanctioned party for a service. These transactions would go unreported by financial authorities even if they used popular cryptocurrencies and whitelisted wallets. However, Chen added that when the tokens are converted for fiat currency and sent to the sanctioned party’s bank account, difficulties would develop.

“If you use a large exchange like Binance, this bank transfer would not work,” Chen warned. As a result, you’ll have to rely on the smaller exchange services that have been so popular in the post-Soviet world.”

While cryptocurrencies are becoming more popular every day, they are still mainly uncontrolled in many countries throughout the globe, and adoption is still in its early stages. As a result, it’s still unclear if cryptocurrencies can be utilized at the size of a nation-state to dodge sanctions. 

One thing is certain: whether crypto is the future generation of money or just another type of investing, authorities are keeping a close eye on its usage in illegal activities like sanction evasion.

China’s CBDC isn’t about defeating the dollar; it’s about dominating the local market.

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