US DOJ to double its crypto team, target ransomware crimes

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) promises to significantly increase the pool of available prosecutors to probe into illicit activities tied to cryptocurrencies.
Department of Justice representative Nicole Argentieri announced that the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET) would be integrated as a constant entity within a department division that deals with an array of digital-related inquiries.
Leadership within the team is set for a shakeup. Claudia Quiroz steps into the role of interim director following the exit of the current head, Eun Young Choi, as stated by Argentieri. Choi is set to transition into a fresh role within the DOJ, confirmed a representative from the department.
In a discussion held in Washington, D.C. by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Argentieri mentioned that it was time to elevate NCET’s status. Incorporating it within the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) would provide the necessary resources and trajectory to achieve greater results.

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The DOJ initiated the NCET in 2021 due to rising alarm regarding the burgeoning size of the digital asset industry and the potential for miscreants, terrorists, and other malicious entities to exploit cryptocurrencies for the transmission and laundering of unlawful funds.

The prominence and contributions of the team have amplified since its inception, owing to a downturn in the industry and the fall of the FTX crypto exchange. Legal authorities have indicted FTX’s creator, Sam Bankman-Fried, accusing him of siphoning off billions of dollars from exchange clients while deceiving investors and lenders.

The crypto group has significantly contributed to the DOJ’s cryptocurrency-related inquiries. The team was instrumental in bringing charges against the creator and primary shareholder of the Hong Kong-based Bitzlato exchange.

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It has also supported the probe into Binance, the globally leading cryptocurrency exchange. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have launched independent civil proceedings this year against Binance and its creator and dominant shareholder, Changpeng Zhao.
The fallout of FTX has escalated the immediacy among regulators and law enforcement officials to identify and eliminate malicious entities within the digital asset industry. Concurrently, officials have noted an escalating trend of exploiting cryptocurrencies in nearly all facets of illicit activities.
Kenneth Polite, the chief of the DOJ’s criminal division, in a recent conversation with The Wall Street Journal said,

“Cryptocurrencies now form a critical component of how we perceive criminal activities being conducted currently.”

Argentieri is scheduled to succeed Polite as the acting assistant attorney general leading the criminal division after his impending exit from the department.
Post the reshuffling, NCET will be a subunit within CCIPS, with its director as deputy chief, confirmed the DOJ representative. According to Argentieri, this move, in addition to maximizing resources, would also position prosecutors dealing with crypto-related cases on a level playing field with their counterparts handling computer and intellectual property-related cases.
The reshaping of NCET comes from the Justice Department’s establishment of the National Security Cyber Section, aimed at addressing cyber intrusions by state-sponsored actors and other cyber threats compromising U.S. national security.
According to Ari Redbord, a former federal prosecutor and current global head of policy at blockchain analytics firm TRM Labs, these changes within the Justice Department signify its leadership’s acknowledgment that proficiency in cryptocurrencies and emerging tech is crucial to anticipate and tackle both crime and national security threats faced by the U.S.

“In recent years, the DOJ has come to realize that we’ve transitioned to a digital battlefield where confrontations are fought on blockchains. The truth is, if this indeed represents the future, every prosecutor and investigator will need to grasp these cases.”
Ari Redbord, a former federal prosecutor

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