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Senator Tim Scott accuses Biden admin of using crypto as 'scapegoat' on illicit finance

Senator says crypto focus allows larger illicit finance sources benefiting Iran

Rendered image interpretation of Senator Tim Scott debating in a Senate hearing.

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During a Senate hearing on April 9, Senator Tim Scott accused the current US administration of making digital assets a scapegoat in its efforts to combat terrorism financing while overlooking more significant traditional funding sources, specifying those that Iran.

Addressing Deputy Treasury Secretary Adewale Adeyemo at the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Scott expressed concerns over the Treasury’s exclusive focus on expanding its authority over cryptocurrencies.

He argued that this narrow approach neglects major sources of terrorism funding, such as Iran’s $35 billion in oil exports and an additional $16 billion in US hostage relief and electricity waivers, which allegedly facilitate the Iranian government’s misuse of funds.

The scope of the conversation regarding illicit financing is “far larger than digital assets”, Scott asserted, accusing the administration of missing the “elephant in the room.”

In response, Adeyemo defended the Treasury’s focus on digital assets, explaining that the department’s current lack of authority makes it more challenging to effectively restrict crypto transactions compared to traditional financial transfers. He highlighted the unique challenges posed by cryptocurrencies, such as Russia’s use of stablecoins to circumvent sanctions and North Korea’s reliance on mixers to obscure financial transactions.

“As we take steps to cut terrorist groups and other malign actors off from the traditional financial system, we are concerned about the ways these actors are using cryptocurrencies to try and circumvent our sanctions,” Secretary Adeyemo said in a statement.

Adeyemo outlined the Treasury’s request for additional powers over crypto, which was initially proposed in November. The proposal aims to introduce secondary sanctions against foreign crypto providers, tighten existing regulations, and address risks posed by international crypto platforms.

This call for enhanced oversight of digital assets received support from other senators who believe the sector requires stricter regulations. Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown emphasized the importance of crypto platforms adhering to the same regulatory standards as traditional financial institutions, particularly in combating terrorist financing.

Senator Bob Menendez raised concerns about the ease of converting oil proceeds to crypto, to which Adeyemo reiterated the necessity for more comprehensive authority over the sector. Senator Elizabeth Warren also chimed in, highlighting Iran’s role as a blockchain validator and its potential to earn millions in transaction fees, including from US transactions. Warren called for the extension of financial institution regulations to blockchain validators to prevent abuse.

As the debate over the appropriate level of regulation for digital assets continues, the US Treasury’s push for expanded authority over cryptocurrencies remains a contentious issue. While some argue that the focus on crypto is disproportionate compared to the attention given to traditional sources of illicit financing, others maintain that the unique challenges posed by digital assets warrant increased scrutiny and oversight.

Note: This article was produced with the assistance of AI, specifically Claude 3 Opus for text and OpenAI’s GPT-4 for images. The editor has extensively revised the content to adhere to journalism standards for objectivity and neutrality.

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