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UN Monitors Uncover North Korea’s $147.5M Cryptocurrency Laundering

In March, North Korea funneled $147.5 million through the virtual currency platform Tornado Cash, following the theft of the same amount from a cryptocurrency exchange last year, as reported by confidential findings from United Nations sanctions monitors, disclosed by Reuters on Tuesday.

These monitors informed a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee in a report submitted on Friday that they had been investigating 97 presumed North Korean cyberattacks on cryptocurrency firms from 2017 to 2024, totaling around $3.6 billion. This figure encompasses an incident late last year, where $147.5 million was pilfered from the HTX cryptocurrency exchange and subsequently laundered in March, based on data provided by crypto analytics firm PeckShield and blockchain research firm Elliptic.

In 2024 alone, the monitors detailed examining 11 cryptocurrency thefts valued at $54.7 million, noting that some of these “may have been conducted by DPRK IT workers inadvertently hired by small crypto-related companies.” The monitors also highlighted that North Korean IT employees operating abroad generate significant revenue for the country, according to reports from U.N. member states and private enterprises.

Officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions since 2006, which have been progressively intensified to curtail funding for its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The North Korean mission to the U.N. in New York did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In 2022, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Tornado Cash on allegations of supporting North Korea. In 2023, two of its co-founders were indicted for facilitating over $1 billion in money laundering, including for a cybercrime syndicate associated with North Korea. Virtual currency “mixer” platforms like Tornado Cash amalgamate cryptocurrencies from multiple users to obscure the origin and ownership of funds.

This case has shown the constant problems and legal difficulties of the cryptocurrency activities that are worldwide, especially those that can be related to the international security threats.

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