U.S. Treasury sanctions Sinbad mixer, citing money laundering by North Korea’s Lazarus Group
As the Treasury Department delivers on recent promises to aggressively pursue malfeasance in the crypto sphere, the DPRK is emerging as a common culprit.
The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned the cryptocurrency mixing service Sinbad.io (Sinbad) for its role in enabling money laundering by North Korean state-sponsored hacking groups, according to a Nov. 29 press release.
According to the Treasury Department, Sinbad has allegedly processed millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency stolen in high-profile cyberattacks attributed to the North Korea-linked hacking group Lazarus Group. The Lazarus Group was previously sanctioned in 2019 for its cyber-attacks, which have reportedly yielded over $2 billion in stolen digital assets over the past decade.
Specifically, Sinbad has been linked to laundering funds from the recent $100 million hack of cryptocurrency wallet provider Atomic Wallet and last year’s $620 million Axie Infinity hack and $100 million Horizon Bridge exploit.
“Mixing services that enable criminal actors, such as the Lazarus Group, to launder stolen assets will face serious consequences,” said Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, adding that “The Treasury Department and its U.S. government partners stand ready to deploy all tools at their disposal to prevent virtual currency mixers, like Sinbad, from facilitating illicit activities.”
The Treasury Department’s sanctioning of Sinbad comes after previous actions taken this year against the cryptocurrency mixers Blender.io and Tornado Cash for enabling Lazarus Group money laundering. Some industry experts believe Sinbad to be a successor to Blender.io, but this is not proven.
The Treasury has intensified its crackdown on cryptocurrency mixers since its first major action sanctioning Tornado Cash in August 2022 over money laundering concerns related to North Korea. Tornado Cash, which had laundered over $7 billion since 2019, was sanctioned for processing funds stolen by the North Korean hacking group Lazarus Group.
The developers of Tornado Cash have faced legal repercussions as well. Co-founders Roman Storm and Roman Semenov were charged in August 2023 with conspiracy to commit money laundering, sanctions violations, and operating an unlicensed money transmitter. Storm was arrested, while Semenov remains at large.
Crypto advocacy group Coin Center filed a lawsuit against the Treasury, claiming the Tornado Cash sanctions violated privacy rights and represented government overreach. However, a federal judge dismissed the case in November, ruling that there is no constitutionally protected right to use a particular financial tool for donations under the First Amendment.
Additionally, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo gave an ominous speech in October warning digital asset companies that “if they do not act to prevent illicit financial flows, the United States and our partners will.” This indicates the Treasury’s intent to continue targeting services enabling sanctions evasion and money laundering. The Treasury recently designated crypto mixer transactions as a new class of “primary money laundering concern.