The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) unsealed charges against a North Korean bank official regarding two cryptocurrency-related crimes on April 24.
Accused was involved in two criminal plots
The DOJ said that Sim Hyon Sop, a North Korean Foreign Trade Bank representative, was involved in two cryptocurrency money laundering conspiracies.
Sim allegedly conspired with three over-the-counter (OTC) crypto traders in order to launder stolen exchange funds to be spent on items for North Korea.
Two foreign nationals, Wu Huihu and Cheng Hung Man, were named as co-conspirators. Wu faces separate charges, and all three individuals have been designated by the U.S. Treasury. Another individual is known only by the pseudonym “Jammy Chen.”
Separately, Sim is alleged to have conspired with North Korean IT workers by laundering revenue earned through illegal employment at U.S. blockchain firms. The workers, who operated under fake identities, asked to be paid in cryptocurrencies such as Tether (USDT) and USD Coin (USDC). Those funds were directed to North Korea.
The DOJ said that conspiracy to launder monetary instruments carries a maximum of 20 years and that operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business carries five years in prison. The former charge seemingly applies to Sim, while the latter applies to Wu.
U.S. sanctions target North Korea broadly
DOJ official Kenneth A. Polite described Sim’s efforts as “innovative attempts” to evade U.S. sanctions against North Korea. Those sanctions are intended to prevent the country from developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
The DOJ also acknowledged various other illegal North Korean activities involving cryptocurrency, especially those carried out by the state-backed Lazarus hacking group. Lazarus Group was responsible for two high-profile blockchain attacks (against Horizon Bridge and Ronin Bridge) in 2022. It also makes frequent use of coin mixers.
Though the DOJ did not directly suggest that Sim and his co-conspirators are a member of Lazarus or related groups, Treasury statements suggest Wu handled Lazarus funds.
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