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US Department of Justice creates cryptocurrency enforcement unit

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The US Department of Justice has created a team to investigate cryptocurrency-related crime. The National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET) will handle investigations of “crimes committed by virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, and money laundering infrastructure actors,” the agency said in a news release. Mixing and tumbling services can obscure the source of a cryptocurrency transaction, by mixing it with other funds.

Cryptocurrency is “used in a wide variety of criminal activity,” including ransomware demand payments, money laundering, and for the illegal sales of drugs, weapons, and malware, the agency noted. Several high-profile ransomware cases have involved demands in cryptocurrency, including the Colonial Pipeline attack in May, where the company reportedly paid a $5 million ransom to DarkSide (the group later apologized for the “social consequences” of the hack). And the Treasury Department issued sanctions against a cryptocurrency exchange for the first time last month.

The DOJ says the NCET, which will provide expertise in blockchain and cryptocurrency transactions for the Justice Department and other US government agencies, will draw team members from the DOJ’s money laundering, intellectual property, and computer crimes divisions, as well as from US attorneys’ offices across the country.

The team will be under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. to start, but the Justice Department is seeking to hire someone who has “experience with complex criminal investigations and prosecutions, as well as the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies and the blockchain,” on a more permanent basis.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement that NCET would “draw on the Department’s cyber and money laundering expertise to strengthen our capacity to dismantle the financial entities that enable criminal actors to flourish— and quite frankly to profit— from abusing cryptocurrency platforms.”

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