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UN Says Hong Kong Blockchain Firm Is a Laundering Service For North Korea

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UN Says Hong Kong Blockchain Firm Is a Laundering Service For North Korea
UN Says Hong Kong Blockchain Firm Is a Laundering Service For North Korea

The United Nations Security Council’s Sanctions Committee on North Korea has accused the country of using a Hong Kong-based blockchain firm as a front to launder money. As South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported on Nov. 6, the committee investigated the various strategies allegedly employed by the North to evade sanctions using cryptocurrencies and other means.

The Committee alleges that “Marine China” — a blockchain-focused shipping and logistics firm registered in Hong Kong — was created by North Korean actors; its owner and sole investor is purportedly an individual named Julian Kim, who also operates under the alias “Tony Walker.” Kim has reportedly appointed a second, unnamed individual to head the firm and has allegedly attempted to withdraw undisclosed sums of cash several times from Singaporean banks.

North Korean intelligence services are also accused of grooming cyber agents from childhood for future careers as hackers skilled at stealing cryptocurrency. The investigation alleges that cryptocurrency stolen by North Korea in 2018 was converted into cash via at least 5,000 discrete transactions across multiple countries, making the laundering activity “difficult to track.” Hackers from the North are reported to be using spear-phishing methods to conduct precision attacks, as in the case of an operation targeting the computer network of a bank in Bangladesh back 2016.

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Seventeen countries are thought to have been targeted by North Korea’s spear-phishing attacks over the past three years, with damages totaling an estimated $2 billion. Hackers’ strategies further reportedly include malicious code designed to launder stolen Bitcoin (BTC) to a server-based at Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang.

Recent reports have suggested that North Korea is allegedly pursuing the development of its own central bank digital currency, even though at an official level, the DPRK has so far refused to comment on the claims.

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German Watchdog Issues Warning Over Bulgarian Crypto Broker

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German Watchdog Issues Warning Over Bulgarian Crypto Broker

The German federal financial supervisory authority (BaFin) has issued a warning to investors over the activity of Bulgarian crypto broker 5 Capital.

According to a report by Finance Magnates, the German watchdog said that 5 Capital offers European investors a contract for difference (CFD) products that allegedly include exposure to crypto-assets.

Crypto businesses and exchanges in Germany are required to apply for a license to BaFin by the end of 2019 as apart of compliance with new anti-money laundering regulations being adopted by the country. While derivatives that reference crypto-assets are not included in the same regulatory category, they are restricted by the European Securities and Market Authorities (EMSA) in regards to retail investors.

According to the report, BaFin has been increasingly wary of the cryptocurrency industry, issuing regular warnings to investors about the potential risks associated with bitcoin. While 5 Capital is based out of Sofia, Bulgaria, the company will have to apply for a license and be in full compliance with BaFin by the end of the year in order to continue operating in Germany.

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Russian Intelligence Agency FSB Linked to $450 Million in Missing Bitcoin

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Russian Intelligence Agency FSB Linked to $450 Million in Missing Bitcoin

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has been linked to the disappearance of $450 million in bitcoin from the controversial crypto exchange World Exchange Services (WEX).

Controversial Exchange WEX/BTC-e

In late 2018, Russian-based crypto exchange WEX collapsed amidst accusations of money-laundering the disappearance of hundreds of millions of dollars in bitcoin and other crypto assets. According to a BBC report published Nov. 15, the Russian FSB intelligence agency may have played a role in misappropriating the lost funds.

WEX was previously known as BTC-e before being shut down in 2017 by international authorities for its alleged involvement in money-laundering activities. Alexander Vinnik, the exchange’s alleged operator, was arrested at the time and accused of laundering more than $4 billion in cryptocurrency since the exchange’s launch in 2011.

A PwC report earlier in the year said,

WEX is most notably known for its alleged involvement in the laundering of some $4 billion, transferring of funds to facilitate operations of the threat actor tracked by PwC as Blue Athena, and being responsible for cashing out 95% of all ransomware payments made since 2014.

FSB Crypto Fund

According to the BBC report, WEX/BTC-e co-founder Alexey Bilyuchenko says he was forced to hand over information about customer’s digital wallets to members of the FSB in 2018, which the intelligence agency allegedly used to obtain more than $450 million in user funds.

The BBC claims to have obtained audio recordings from individuals discussing the importance of bringing WEX under FSB control, including one man the BBC identifies as Konstantin Malofeev, a pro-Kremlin Russian billionaire currently under U.S. sanctions.

Bilyuchenko reportedly received multiple calls threatening to close the WEX exchange if he did not comply. According to the report, the WEX co-founder was taken to FSB offices in Moscow over the course of three days in April 2018, where he handed over flash drives containing details on accessing exchange user funds.

Bilyuchenko says he was told that WEX client money would be transferred to the “FSB Russia Fund.” Several months after handing over the data, WEX froze customer funds and withdrawals, before completely shutting down in late 2018.

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Belgian Regulator Blacklists 9 Crypto Sites Which May Be Fraudulent

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Belgian Regulator Blacklists 9 Crypto Sites Which May Be Fraudulent
Belgian Regulator Blacklists 9 Crypto Sites Which May Be Fraudulent

Belgium’s Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA) has made an additional update to its blacklist of cryptocurrency-related websites associated with the fraud. On Oct. 29, Belgium’s financial watchdog updated its list of cryptocurrency trading platforms for which it has detected indications of fraud, by adding nine new suspect sites, bringing the total of suspected crypto scams to 131. 

The financial authority said that it continued to receive new complaints from consumers who made crypto investments on those trading platforms, adding that cryptocurrency fraud continues to find new victims in Belgium, despite prior warnings. The FSMA has issued previous warnings to Belgian crypto investors to be wary of companies that claim to hold authorizations from supervisory authorities, adding:

“This is a very frequently used technique. However, these are often cases of identity theft. Feel free to ask the FSMA to confirm the information you have received.”

Many of the blacklisted crypto firms purportedly offer financial services without complying with Belgian financial legislation. However, most of these crypto firms mentioned in the list operate outside the jurisdiction of the FSMA, which makes it near impossible for the agency to legally charge them. 

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Although the FSMA cannot charge the suspected websites of fraud, an alert could still minimize the risks for potential cryptocurrency investors. The FSMA added that the blacklist is based solely on the findings of the authority and warns that it does not include all of the crypto companies that might be operating illegally in Belgium.

In June 2018, the Belgian financial authority FPS Economy (FPS) launched a website to raise awareness of the risks associated with cryptocurrency investments. Belgian investors reportedly lost about $2.5 million in crypto scams in 2017, which accounts for only 4% of overall crypto fraud cases, with the total losses estimated at $152 million.

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