Law enforcement authorities in Ukraine have exposed a crime ring specializing in cryptocurrency theft and laundering of illicit funds for hackers. The gang, which provided services to clients on the darknet, has been dismantled as a result of a joint operation carried out with the United States.
The Cybersecurity Department at the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has recently identified a group of individuals who allegedly laundered tens of millions of dollars from darknet sources, the agency announced. The Ukrainians were legalizing illicit funds on behalf of international hackers, the SBU revealed in a press release published Monday.
To launder the money, the suspects organized a large-scale scheme involving fake online identities and fictitious persons. Investigators were able to establish that the funds had been transferred through various financial services. Customers were mostly hackers engaged in cyber theft and attacks on banking systems in different parts of the world.
The members of the criminal group were also selling flash drives containing viruses designed to compromise digital wallets and steal cryptocurrency. The operation, carried out with support from U.S. agencies, and with the participation of Ukraine’s national police and the Prosecutor General’s Office, led to searches at addresses in the Southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. Authorities seized computer equipment, malicious software, paperwork, and cash.
The SBU explained that the collected information and materials are currently being analyzed to prosecute all responsible persons, including foreign clients of the Ukrainian criminals. The law enforcement authority did not provide details regarding the number of those involved and if they were under arrest.
Ukraine, which has in recent years become a leader in crypto adoption while moving to legalize cryptocurrencies, has seen an increase in crypto-related crime. The Security Service of Ukraine has been going after illegal miners this year and shut down crypto farms in different regions of the country. In August, the SBU blocked a number of online crypto exchangers allegedly sending money to Russia.
Earlier this month, South Korean police announced participation in a joint operation with Interpol and the FBI to disrupt another Ukraine-based criminal network accused of extorting bitcoin through ransomware attacks on Korean universities and businesses. According to an announcement by the National Office of Investigation, quoted by the Korean public broadcaster KBS, law enforcement raided 21 locations in Kiev this past June, arresting six individuals.
The attacks took place in 2019, when four academic institutions and companies in South Korea were blackmailed to pay up to 4.5 billion won (over $3.8 million) worth of bitcoin to have their computer systems decrypted. While Ukraine’s current legislation makes it difficult to extradite the perpetrators, authorities in Seoul have asked Interpol to issue a red notice for two of the suspects who could end up in Korean custody if they leave their country, the report noted.
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