DOJ files first criminal complaint against U.S. citizen allegedly using cryptocurrency to evade sanctions


By Kevin Helms,

18th May 2022 – (Washington) The U.S. Justice Department has filed its first criminal complaint against a U.S. citizen who allegedly tried to evade American sanctions using cryptocurrency, according to a judicial opinion document filed on Friday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui. The case is still sealed.

Judge Faruqui explained why he approved the DOJ’s criminal complaint against the American citizen accused of transmitting more than $10 million worth of bitcoin to a crypto exchange in a comprehensively sanctioned country. Comprehensive sanctions are currently placed on Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the regions of Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has imposed fines against crypto exchange platforms for violating sanctions laws. However, the judge explained:

The Department of Justice can and will criminally prosecute individuals and entities for failure to comply with the OFAC’s regulations, including as to virtual currency.

The DOJ alleged that the defendant, a U.S. citizen, used an IP address in the U.S. “to conspire to operate an online payments and remittances platform” based in a comprehensively sanctioned country. The Justice Department noted:

The payments platform advertised its services as designed to evade U.S. sanctions, including through purportedly untraceable virtual currency transactions.

The defendant also opened an account with a U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange to buy and sell bitcoin. The defendant then used this crypto exchange account to transmit over 10 million dollars worth of BTC between the U.S. and sanctioned countries for the platform’s customers. In doing so, the defendant conspired to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and defraud the United States, the DOJ detailed.

The judge further noted: “The question is no longer whether virtual currency is here to stay … but instead whether fiat currency regulations will keep pace with frictionless and transparent payments on the blockchain.”