Russian Spies Used $1 Million in Crypto to Meddle in US Elections

In brief

  • A manager of a Russian group linked to electoral manipulation has been accused of conspiracy over wire fraud.
  • US authorities claim he opened accounts on crypto exchanges using fraudulent identities.
  • A blockchain analytics company tracked the money.

US federal authorities have issued an arrest warrant for a Russian citizen claim conspired to meddle in US elections and steal the identities of US citizens to open fraudulent accounts in cryptocurrency exchanges through which he, along with accomplices, funneled nearly $ 1 million.

The complaint, filed yesterday in the District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges that Artem Lifshits, 27, of St. Petersburg, Russia, is a manager of Project Lakhta, an operation targeting election meddling and technical distrust. in the political system of nations.

According to the complaint, the person was involved in a conspiracy over fraud to strengthen Russia’s foreign influence and to enrich himself and others, said Alan E. Kohler, Jr. FBI deputy director of the counterintelligence division, in a statement released by the United States Department of Justice yesterday.

Lifshits, along with Russian nationals Anton Andreyev, Darya Aslanov, as well as Andrii Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and suspected Russian spy, have been sanctioned.

The money, much of it in cryptocurrency, was used to “ promote the influence of Project Lakhta and for personal enrichment, ” the DOJ’s press release. They probably used cryptocurrency because of its privacy features and because it is much less regulated than traditional finance. They stole identities from US citizens to gain access to major crypto exchanges, which today have identity checks.

Elliptic, a blockchain analytics firm, tracked down the cryptocurrency used to fund the operation. Analysis of the addresses Listed on the website of the United States Treasury Department, it found that nearly $ 1 million had passed between May 2017 and January 2017.

Transactions ended “shortly after the November 2018 midterm elections,” said Dr. Tom Robinson, Elliptic’s co-founder and chief scientist, in a statement. blog post.

Elliptic researchers found that of the 23 crypto addresses listed by OFAC, $ 624,118 (64%) of the money was held in Bitcoin; $ 260,354 (26.8%) of Ether; $ 80,281 (8.3%) in the privacy coin, Zcash; and $ 2,464 (0.3%) in Bitcoin SV.

Money was bouncing around various exchanges including Gemini, Bitfinex, Poloniex and Binance.

Elliptic said the conspirators could do something called ‘chain-hopping’, where criminals move money between many exchanges. This makes it difficult to track funds, but more importantly, it makes it a nightmare for authorities to ask for exchanges to freeze funds.

Elliptic wrote that “In fact, one or more accounts on a single, well-known exchange received more than 96% of the $ 1 million in crypto involved, “but that would be it. “Do not disclose the affected exchanges for confidentiality reasons.”