U.S. sanctions two Iranians over digital currency payments

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Department of the Treasury said Wednesday that it took action against two Iranians who helped exchange digital currency ransom payments into Iran's currency.

The Treasury said in a statement that Ali Khorashadizadeh and Mohammad Ghorbaniyan helped exchange digital currency (bitcoin) ransom payments into Iranian rial on behalf of Iranian cyber actors involved with the SamSam ransomware scheme that targeted over 200 known victims.

"Treasury is targeting digital currency exchangers who have enabled Iranian cyber actors to profit from extorting digital ransom payments from their victims," the Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said in a statement.

The Treasury also identified two digital currency addresses associated with these two financial facilitators.

Over 7,000 transactions in bitcoin, worth millions of U.S. dollars, have processed through these two addresses, some of which involved SamSam ransomware derived bitcoin, according to the statement.

The statement said all property and interests in property of the designated persons that are in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within or transiting the United States are blocked, and U.S. persons generally are prohibited from dealing with them.

In a related action, the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday indicted two other Iranians for infecting numerous data networks with SamSam ransomware in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada since 2015.

"We are announcing the first-ever indictment against criminal actors for deploying a for-profit ransomware, hacking, and extortion scheme," Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in a statement issued by the Justice Department on Wednesday.

Washington has intensified its sanctions against Tehran after President Donald Trump's decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal in May, a move that has been criticized widely by the international community.

In early November, the United States had put 700 Iranian individuals, entities, vessels, and aircraft on the sanctions list, including major Iranian banks, oil exporters, and shipping companies.

For his part, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has blasted the U.S. sanctions as "economic terrorism." Enditem

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