Senator Warren seizes on fears over crypto and sanctions with new bill

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Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren is preparing a bill to crack down on the use of crypto as a way to avoid economic sanctions.

Warren’s latest anti-crypto move comes alongside a push from the U.S. government to stamp out the possibility of Russia using crypto to skirt a host of economic sanctions placed on the nation.

According to a March. 8 report from NBC News, one of the provisions of Warren’s new crypto bill — which is still in draft form — will require local crypto exchanges to submit “detailed records” to the Treasury Department of customers’ identities and transfers to private crypto wallets.

It also aims to “force companies to choose between doing business in the U.S. or with sanctioned people and entities by threatening secondary sanctions on foreign crypto exchanges.”

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is also working towards drafting similar requirements based on Warren’s bill according to NBC.

Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation Alex Bornyakov has been calling for crypto exchanges to ban Russian users for the past week or so, however top crypto exchanges such as Binance, Coinbase and Kraken have all said they won’t implement a blanket ban but have emphasizing their commitment to being compliant with U.S. sanctions.

Senator Warren has been highly skeptical of the sector for quite some time now, and in 2021 alone she labeled DeFi as the “most dangerous” part of crypto, introduced a bill to study crypto’s role in ransomware and slammed the Ethereum network for its high fees during a committee hearing. So it’s little surprise to industry observers she has seized the opportunity to push for tougher regulations.

Warren, who was among a group of Senators to write to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the issue last week,  noted on Twitter earlier today that her bill will “ensure crypto isn’t used by Putin and his cronies to undermine our economic sanctions.”

While the idea of Russia using crypto to evade sanctions has been grabbing the headlines, experts such as Jake Chervinsky, head of policy at crypto policy promoter the Blockchain Association have argued that the nation “can’t and won’t use crypto to avoid sanctions.

Chervinsky cited the scale of the Russian state’s monetary needs exceeding the capabilities of crypto markets, sanctions barring U.S. businesses and citizens from transacting with Russia regardless of the payment used and a lack of Russian crypto infrastructure to support the demand. His arguments did not address the question of individual Russians using crypto to evade sanctions however.

Warren’s regulatory push comes just a week after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and a group from the House of Representatives called for congressional action on crypto in relation to Russia.

Powell stated that the situation with Russia emphasizes the need to introduce robust regulatory frameworks in the sector “to prevent these unbacked cryptocurrencies from serving as a vehicle for terrorist financing and just general criminal behavior, tax avoidance and the like.”

Related: Bitcoin stems losses after US bans Russian oil, gold heads to record highs

Earlier this week FinCEN sent out an alert for “all financial institutions to be vigilant against” Russia’s efforts to evade the U.S.’s sanctions, as it outlined a series of red flags to be able to identify any evasion activity.

The types of means listed included the use of corporate vehicles to obscure asset ownership and sources of funds, shell companies to conduct international wire transfers, use of third parties to shield identity and newly established accounts to send or receive funds from a sanction institution. The FinCEN alert stated:

“It is critical that all financial institutions, including those with visibility into CVC flows, such as CVC exchangers and administrators […] identify and quickly report suspicious activity associated with potential sanctions evasion, and conduct appropriate risk-based customer due diligence or, where required, enhanced due diligence.”


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