The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, is one of the poorest countries in the world. The starvation and dire poverty of its people, however, do not stop the DPRK government from spending money to develop its WMD and ballistic missile programs and using illicit means to obtain that money.
On May 6, the United States imposed sanctions on the virtual currency mixer Blender.io, known as Blender. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, “In an attempt to evade robust U.S. and UN sanctions, the DPRK has resorted to theft of funds from virtual currency exchanges and blockchain-related companies to generate revenue for its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. Blender is a platform that has enabled the DPRK’s malicious cyber actors to mix illicit virtual currency with anonymous virtual currency to facilitate money laundering, including part of the proceeds of the nearly $620 million theft from Sky Mavis in March.”
That incident, one of the biggest hacks in the crypto world, was carried out by the Lazarus Group, an entity controlled by the government of the DPRK. Blender processed over $20.5 million of those illicit proceeds.
“Virtual currency mixers that assist illicit transactions pose a threat to U.S. national security interests,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement. “We are taking action against illicit financial activity by the DPRK and will not allow state-sponsored thievery and its money-laundering enablers to go unanswered.”
The investigation of Blender by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, found that Blender also facilitated money-laundering for Russian-linked ransomware groups.
The sanctions mean all property and interests in property of Blender.io that is in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons is blocked and must be reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned 50% or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. And all transactions by U.S. persons, unless exempt or authorized under a general or specific license, are prohibited.
Secretary of State Blinken noted that the United States remains committed to seeking diplomacy with the DPRK. “We will continue to address the DPRK’s unlawful cyber activities, as well as violations of UN Security Council resolutions.”