©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A graphic lights up representations of the virtual currency bitcoin in this illustration taken March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions on virtual currency mixer Blender, accusing it of being involved in one of the largest cryptocurrency thefts on record and of being used by North Korea.
Treasury also identified new virtual currency addresses that it said were used by the North Korean hacker group, often nicknamed “Lazarus,” to launder illicit assets, accusing the group of carrying out the theft of hundreds of of millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies tied to the popular online game.
“We are cracking down on (North Korea’s) illicit financial activity and we will not let state-sponsored theft and its money laundering enablers go unanswered,” said Brian Nelson, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The Treasury said it is the first time the United States has imposed sanctions on a virtual currency mixer.
North Korea has stepped up its efforts to launder stolen cryptocurrency, significantly increasing its use of mixers, or software tools that pool and mix cryptocurrency from thousands of addresses, blockchain and cybersecurity analytics firm Chainalysis said.
The Treasury said that Blender is a virtual currency mixer that operates on the chain, and accused it of facilitating illicit transactions by hiding their origin and destination.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Kanishka Singh in Washington and James Pearson (LON:) in London; Edited in Spanish by Javier Leira)