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North Korea laundered $199m in stolen crypto in March, say UN experts

UNITED NATIONS — North Korea laundered US$147.5 million (S$199 million) through virtual currency platform Tornado Cash in March after stealing it in 2023 from a cryptocurrency exchange, according to confidential work by United Nations sanctions monitors seen by Reuters on May 14.

The monitors told a UN Security Council sanctions committee in a document submitted on Friday that they had been investigating 97 suspected North Korean cyberattacks on cryptocurrency companies between 2017 and 2024, valued at some US$3.6 billion.

That included an attack late in 2023 where US$147.5 million was stolen from HTX cryptocurrency exchange before being laundered in March 2024, the monitors told the committee, citing information from crypto analytics firm PeckShield and blockchain research firm Elliptic.

In 2024 alone, the monitors said they had been looking at "11 cryptocurrency thefts... valued at $54.7 million", adding that many of those "may have been conducted by DPRK IT workers inadvertently hired by small crypto-related companies".

The monitors said that according to UN member states and private companies, North Korean IT workers operating abroad generate "substantial income for the country".

Formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006 and those measures have been strengthened over the years in a bid to cut funding for its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes.

North Korea's mission to the UN in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The US sanctioned Tornado Cash in 2022 over accusations it supports North Korea. Two of its co-founders were charged in 2023 with facilitating more than US$1 billion in money laundering, including