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Crypto Ties Emerge in Russia’s Latest US Sanctions

The number of American citizens under Russian sanctions has been mounting — and a number of high profile crypto industry names are among them.

Russia’s latest response to the country’s escalating conflict with the US came out on May 19 via the Russian Foreign Ministry. It’s a move effectively intended, per multiple reports, to prevent Americans from traveling to Russia.

And it follows a recent US measure via the Treasury to step in with the country’s own sanctions, said to intend to “further degrade” Russia’s ability to continue fighting the war in Ukraine.

Names ranging from former President Barack Obama to Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert have been included on Russia’s latest countermeasure. But it turns out that Russia’s latest move contains a number of crypto native names, too.

BJ Kang – Binance.US

Former FBI agent BJ Kang clocked in at number 147 on Russia’s banned list.

Once a prominent FBI investigator, Kang in October 2022 was hired by Binance.US — a move that created waves throughout the cryptocurrency industry during its fourth quarter downturn.

Russia, nonetheless, identified Kang as a current FBI agent on its latest list.

Kang gained a reputation for his involvement in major securities fraud investigations — including playing a key role in Bernie Madoff’s trial.

He also led the investigation into Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of a hedge fund firm, Galleon, that went through an SEC-instigated insider trading case.

After 20 years at the FBI, Kang swapped his signature blue jacket for a gig at Binance.US.

Kang at the time was tasked by Binance.US with communicating with the likes of law enforcement, regulators and additional counterparties the US-domiciled entity did business with.

Russia’s rationale for sanctioning Kang wasn’t clear, and a representative from Binance.US didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Gurbir Grewal – SEC Enforcement Director

Grewal, who had been serving as the SEC’s director of the regulator’s enforcement division since July 2021, has looked to bring Russian citizens to trial before.

And he’s probed a number of digital asset initiatives.

The SEC charged five Russians in December 2021 for hacking into computer systems to steal corporate earnings reports before they were made public in an effort to profit off them.

In a statement around the same time, Grewal said that with the SEC’s latest action, the regulator employed “its powerful analytical tools” and in the process “exposed a highly sophisticated and deceptive scheme to steal and monetize non-public corporate information.”

Vladislav Klyushin was the only one arrested out of the four co-conspirators and was convicted in February by a Boston federal jury. He faces up to 30 years in prison, CNN reported.

In a September 2022 speech discussing enforcement philosophy, Grewal deemed crypto the “digital elephant in the room.”

“It often seems critics are upset because we’re not giving crypto a pass from the application of well-established regulations and precedents,” Grewal said. “We can’t simply abandon the field when we confront potentially novel issues.”

Grewal has been involved in SEC enforcement actions against the Tron Network (TRX) and crypto exchange Beaxy.

Letitia James – New York Attorney General

Letitia James has taken on a host of crypto industry companies during her attorney general tenure — even if her proximity to Russia is a bit murky.

The attorney general was ranked 110th on the country’s latest sanctioned list.

James assumed office in January 2019. Since then, she’s launched investigations into numerous crypto exchanges and sought a number of high profile prosecutions in the process.

James’ office recently probed the New York-based arm of Coin Cafe, coming away with a $4.3 million settlement haul after Coin Cafe admitted to having collected fraudulent fees from its users.

In March, James sparked a debate between regulators after she became the first to label ether a security during her lawsuit against KuCoin.

Jared Bernstein – Chair of Council of Economic Advisers

Jared Bernstein ascended to his role as chair of the CEA in February 2023. He was ranked 32nd on Russia’s list.

Bernstein has long both praised the potential of blockchain technology, but he’s also trumpeted a number of perceived risks of cryptocurrencies in the process.

“Financial innovation in digital assets offers great potential…but great risks as well,” Bernstein said on CNBC’s Squawk Box in an appearance focused on President Joe Biden’s March 9 executive order on digital assets.

Added Bernstein: “Absent adequate guardrails, protections, safeguards, unchecked financial innovation can introduce deep and systemic risk.”

Bernstein’s CEA was also behind the proposed Digital Asset Mining Energy (DAME) tax, which would levy a 30% tax on electricity used by crypto miners.

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