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A Treasury official told lawmakers on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use cryptocurrencies to evade US and other sanctions against the Kremlin for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
“Yes, Senator, it is possible,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism Financing and Financial Crimes, when asked by Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., if digital assets could be used to get around sanctions.
The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held the hearing to discuss next steps for deterrence against Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine, such as the confiscation of assets from the Russian oligarchy and the G7 agreement to set the price of Russian oil.
Warren said she has been concerned about the potential for Russian elites to use cryptocurrency to bypass sanctions since invading the country in February.
“Back then, we already knew that countries like North Korea had used cryptocurrency to get around sanctions and launder at least hundreds of millions of dollars. And Russia could easily be a part of that,” Warren said.
The Treasury has already identified Russian entities Attempting to circumvent sanctions using cryptocurrencies. 22 individuals and two entities, including a neo-Nazi paramilitary group, designated this month Helping Russia Fund the War on Ukraine Digitally.
In April, the agency targeted A Virtual currency mining agency For the first time, together with the oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, the privately owned commercial bank Transkapitalbank and 40 other individuals and entities led by Malofeyev.
Sanctions were also imposed on Russia-based cryptocurrency exchange Darknet Market Hydra and Garantex that month in part to cut off avenues for evading potential sanctions.
The US government has blocked access to all of their assets that are in the United States or held by a resident of the US Treasury, as well as transactions between those subject to sanctions and with anyone within the United States.
But Russia planned for the future by developing it digital currency As early as February, hoping to trade directly with countries that will accept the money without first converting it into dollars. The country has also developed tools to hide transaction assets where cryptocurrency exchanges can be traced on the underlying blockchain.
Rosenberg emphasized that enhanced anonymization techniques and other tools used to mask digital transactions can interfere with enforcement of sanctions. Treasury issued First ever penalties for these “mixers” In May and another punished, “Tornado Cash” in August.
Warren reported that Coinbase, the leading cryptocurrency exchange in the United States, filed a lawsuit this month against the Treasury Department on behalf of Tornado Cash users.
Coinbase’s chief legal officer, Paul Grewal, told CNBC that the sanctions set a “dangerous precedent,” but Rosenberg described them as effective.
“When it can act as a deterrent to any criminal (seeking) to use a mixing tool in order to launder their money, proceeds of corruption, or other criminal activity, it is an effective way we can use to signal that we cannot tolerate money laundering,” Rosenberg said.