U.S. Sanctions Bitcoin Mixer Blender for Helping Launder $20.5M to North Korea

Updated by Ryan James
In Brief
  • The U.S. sanctioned crypto mixer Blender for helping North Korean hackers launder Axie Infinity hack proceeds.
  • The sanctions are the first ever on a crypto asset mixer.
  • Four wallet addresses linked to the Lazarus Group were also added to Treasury’s list of sanctioned entities.
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The United States on Friday sanctioned cryptocurrency mixing service Blender for allegedly helping North Korean hackers launder around $20.5 million stolen from the Axie Infinity hack at the end of March.

Blender is a Bitcoin-based tool used by crypto investors to obscure their transactions, making it harder to trace. The mixer has reportedly facilitated the transfer of over $500 million worth of bitcoin since inception in 2017.

Blender becomes first mixer to be sanctioned

The sanctions, imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Control (OFAC), are the first ever on a crypto asset mixer, according to a statement.

The Treasury accused Blender of helping North Korean-backed hacker group Lazarus wash more than $20.5 million in cryptocurrency stolen from Axie Infinity’s Ronin Network bridge on March 23. In total, Lazarus Group made off with $620 million from the heist.

Treasury said the mixing service was also used to facilitate money-laundering for Russian-linked ransomware groups such as Trickbot, Conti, Ryuk and others.

“We are taking action against illicit financial activity by the DPRK [North Korea] and will not allow state-sponsored thievery and its money-laundering enablers to go unanswered,” Brian Nelson, the Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the statement.

Four wallet addresses tied to the Lazarus Group, which has been under sanctions since 2019, were also added to the Treasury’s list of sanctioned entities. The Treasury said it will continue to investigate the use of mixing services for illicit purposes.

Ethereum mixer bends to U.S. sanctions pressure

In April, the U.S. imposed its first set of sanctions against crypto mining firm Bitriver AG and 10 of its subsidiaries, which it accused of supporting Russia.

Ethereum-based mixer Tornado Cash has since announced that it has started to block addresses sanctioned by the OFAC, worried it would run afoul of the range of U.S. embargoes.

“Maintaining financial privacy is essential to preserving our freedom, however, it should not come at the cost of non-compliance,” Tornado Cash said.

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