Ship-to-ship trade and other secrets of North Korea’s illicit $1.5 billion crypto stash

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Jesse Spiro, the global head of policy and regulatory affairs for Chainalysis has said that North Korea through trade-based-money-laundering move their ill-gotten crypto. Flows of crypto stolen by North Korea hackers was mapped by Chainalysis’ sleuthing but the analytics firm claims not to have detected concrete links to global trade networks and this may call for active law enforcement enquiry. In March 2019, United Nations Security Council panel of experts reported a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal as against to U.N. resolutions relating to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The Royal United Services Institute also reported that North Korea pay for contraband goods and resources with crypto. It claimed North Korea actors also make cryptocurrencies payment for business transactions. They pay to shipping companies, brokers or middlemen willing to take crypto as a means of payment. They use this method to avoid detection of carrying undeclared bulk cash. While there was attention on clamping down on North Korea’s coal exports, there was no cognizance of exports of textiles, seafood, iron and lead ore.

A curious case of an Ethereum-based blockchain project called Marine Chain revealed how North Korea combined blockchain with illicit trade. It remains unclear whether Marine Chain is just a means of raising funds through initial coin offering (ICO) or it would metamorphose into production because the project’s owners disappeared as soon as they were contacted by security officials.