US Treasury Sanctions Russians Using Crypto for Election Interference

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has added three Russian nationals and a host of cryptocurrency addresses to its sanctions list on allegations of election interference.

OFAC alleges that the three individuals, Artem Lifshits, Anton Andreyev and Darya Aslanova, are employees of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company and “troll farm” that tries to influence events. The IRA attempted to influence the 2018 midterm elections in the U.S., and OFAC alleged Thursday that this work continued.

“The IRA uses cryptocurrency to fund activities in furtherance of their ongoing malign influence operations around the world,” a press release said.

A separate release listed 23 crypto addresses as being added to OFAC’s sanctions list, meaning any U.S. person who tries to send or receive money from these accounts might be subject to criminal proceedings. The wallets contained a slew of cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, ether, zcash, dash, bitcoin SV and litecoin, according to the OFAC press statement.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) separately charged Lifshits with wire fraud, alling he is part of “Project Lakhta,” an election interference effort based in Russia. According to the DOJ, Lifshits opened “fraudulent accounts” at banks and cryptocurrency exchanges by stealing U.S. citizens’ identities. The Secret Service assisted in the investigation as well.

This is not the first time government agencies have alleged that Russian operatives used cryptocurrency to interfere with U.S. elections: a group of military intelligence officers were indicted in 2018 for efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, including by hacking networks and email accounts used by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

At the time, then-deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the 12 indicted individuals used cryptocurrency to launder funds and pay for their activities.

OFAC has previously listed bitcoin, ether and litecoin addresses as part of its sanctions list, tied to individuals accused of running drugs and participating in ransomware attacks.

UPDATE (Sept. 10, 2020, 18:55 UTC): This article has been updated with a separate DOJ statement, which was published after OFAC’s releases.

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