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US sanctions Iranian Bitcoin addresses

An account that could have held $120 million now has just $3.27

Iran U.S.

(via Shutterstock)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury took the historic step of adding two Bitcoin addresses to its list of sanctioned parties against two Iran-based individuals—Ali Khorashadizadeh and Mohammad Ghorbaniyan. Their bitcoin addresses, associated with the SamSam ransomware scheme, were key as they targeted over 200 known victims in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. But what’s striking is how much money they managed to make.

Through the magic of the blockchain, we can see every single transaction they’ve ever done in the two seized wallets. Some quick forensics don’t show any major withdrawals, like the kind you would see if the Feds emptied a bank account into an evidence bag.

What emerges instead are a number of immediate withdrawals. As soon as money went in almost that exact amount went elsewhere.

Here is where the accounts stand as of Thursday:

Ali received 4,835.29 BTC, currently worth a staggering $20,409,957.22.  Since most of the action in this account happened when crypto markets were higher, the transactions were worth more. About a year ago, it would be worth $100 million. Now the balance of that account is $0. Money trickled out so slowly that it doesn’t appear that the Feds actually got any of it.

Muhammed meanwhile received 1,066.11 BTC. An amount of bitcoin currently worth just $4,483,446.76 as of Thursday. But could have been as much as $20 million earlier this year. The account as of now is worth $3.37.

Strong work here by Steve Mnuchin’s department. Digital currency was only added to the list of sactionable items in March of 2018. But if they really wanted to hit Iran, they were a little too late. If the Treasury had done it in January 2018, they would have been able to return as much as $120 million to the victims.

This is believe to be the first time a bitcoin address has been frozen by the Treasury.

Crypto Lawyer Marco Santori said this actually could be a good sign for Fed policy. These criminals are just on the same banking list that Osama Bin Laden was on. They have the tools they need and no further legislation is needed for a crackdown.

“It means that OFAC believes, today, that it has the tools it needs to enforce the law,” Santori said Wednesday on Twitter. It didn’t ask for more legislation, nor did it didn’t propose new prohibitions. The Treasury is fighting crypto bad guys using the tools already at its disposal.”

Brendan Sullivan is a writer, producer, and author of the memoir Rivington Was Ours: Lady Gaga, the Lower East Side, and the Prime of Our Lives. Disclosure: he owns cryptocurrencies. Follow him on Twitter.

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