In a significant move to combat sanctions evasion and illicit financial activities, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has imposed sanctions on Ekaterina Zhdanova, a Russian national allegedly involved in laundering and transferring funds using crypto on behalf of Russian elites.
According to the announcement, the action aligns with the G7’s commitment to closing loopholes that allow Russian state actors, oligarchs, and proxies to exploit virtual currency to circumvent international sanctions.
Crypto Money Laundering Exposed
Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson emphasized the alleged role played by key facilitators like Zhdanova in aiding Russian elites, ransomware groups, and other illicit actors in evading US and international sanctions through the abuse of cryptocurrencies.
Nelson stated that the Treasury remains steadfast in its efforts to safeguard the global financial system against such exploitation and other risks within the crypto ecosystem.
Allegedly, Zhdanova’s involvement in obfuscating the source of wealth for a Russian client, enabling the transfer of over $2.3 million into Western Europe via fraudulent investment accounts and real estate purchases, drew OFAC’s attention.
Zhdanova’s services provided sanctioned Russian individuals access to Western financial markets that would otherwise be restricted due to US and international prohibitions.
The US Treasury Department alleges that such illicit financial activities enable the evasion of multilateral sanctions and undermine efforts to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked war and aggression.
Utilizing cryptocurrencies as a facilitator of large cross-border transactions, Zhdanova relied on entities lacking Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) controls, including the OFAC-designated Russian cryptocurrency exchange, Garantex Europe OU.
Zhdanova employed various methods to transfer funds internationally, including cash transactions and leveraging connections with other money laundering associates and organizations.
Additionally, she utilized traditional businesses, such as a luxury watch company with global offices, to maintain access to the international financial system.
Furthermore, it is alleged that Zhdanova conducted crypto exchange transfers on behalf of oligarchs who relocated internationally, facilitating the movement of over $100 million to the United Arab Emirates.
Unveiling The Scheme
Zhdanova also provided a tax residency service in the UAE to Russian clients, potentially participating in identity obfuscation. This service offered clients a UAE tax residency, identification card, and bank account, with payments made in cash or virtual currency, subsequently transferred to foreign bank accounts at the client’s discretion.
Notably, Zhdanova’s services extended to individuals associated with the notorious Russian Ryuk ransomware group. Zhdanova allegedly laundered approximately $2.3 million in suspected victim payments for a Ryuk ransomware affiliate, which has targeted numerous victims worldwide, including the United States, particularly in the healthcare sector.
As a consequence of this action, all US persons must report any property or interests in property belonging to Zhdanova or any entities directly or indirectly owned by her. Transactions involving such property are generally prohibited unless authorized by OFAC.
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