Ever heard of the term crypto laundering? North Korea (DPRK) is trading, laundering and mining cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) and possibly Monero (XMR) in order to evade U.S. sanctions, intelligence experts tell Asia Times. The isolated country with a population of 25 million could be raising up to $200 million USD to fund its nuclear and ballistic missile programs through digital coins.
Lourdes Miranda, a financial intelligence analyst, and Ross Delston, an expert in terrorist financing, told the paper that Kim Jong-un's regime is trading cryptocurrencies on various exchanges as well as mixing coins (which obscures the senders and receivers of tokens). These have the effect of money laundering by concealing the source of funds for the purpose of raising cash and funding its military including nuclear and ballistic missile programs that are rattling the region. According to the experts, DPKR is able to circumvent U.S. sanctions and cash out their cryptos using sophisticated methods (outlined below).
"DPRK can create their own crypto-currencies or use established ones like Bitcoin. Having their own crypto-currency would also facilitate their ability to open online accounts under the guise of a non-adversarial nation using anonymous communication to conceal the user’s locations and usage on the internet."
Some crypto observers have long suspected that Kim Jong-un's regime has been mining cryptocurrencies, particularly Bitcoin, to earn money for the cash-strapped peninsula. And there are persistent rumors on the web that the dictator and/or his regime owns thousands of bitcoins.
To put things in perspective, cryptos aren't just a fundraising activity when it comes to the volatile peninsula: It partially solves a national security threat of defecting cabinet officials and military generals as Kim Jong-un has been desperately struggling to pay and feed his army. It's plausible that DPRK is also using privacy coins such as Monero that specialize as being unregulatable and undetectable.
In their joint statement, Miranda and Delston said that North Korea is using advanced methods to confuse information on the blockchain. That includes creating DPRK's own blockchain and wallet services as well as using anonymous communication and cross-border payments with overseas agents who have accounts with U.S. correspondent banks.
"To obscure the origin of DPRK-mined crypto-currencies, DPRK could transfer its crypto-currency from multiple European-based wallets and use multiple mixing services in order to purchase Bitcoin – the most popular and legitimate crypto-currency," they said. "Then, using other mixing services, DPRK could split their Bitcoin and transfer them into multiple mixing services, breaking the linear pattern of transactions on the blockchain while remaining in the same crypto-currency type – Bitcoin."
The experts believe that North Korea is using operatives who are possibly located in China, India, Malaysia and the Philippines, among other countries, to support its crypto-laundering, but they advised that more intelligence funding is needed to discover the full scope of operations.
Earlier this month, a former CIA analyst who specializes in terror financing told Congress that terrorists in the Middle East have so far been unsuccessful in using cryptos. Yaya Fanusie testified to House Financial Services Committee that cryptos have been a poor form of money because terrorists purchase goods and weapons with fiat cash (i.e., U.S. dollar) in places that have little or no infrastructure. He said jihadists prefer cash because it's an anonymous method of funding.
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