Eun Young Choi was announced as the first director of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET), which will focus and serve to identify and dismantle the misuse of cryptocurrencies and other digital assets, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco confirmed on Thursday.

"If we’re going to see — as I think we will — cryptocurrency gaining more traction and gaining wider adoption, we’ve got to make sure that the ecosystem that they operate in can be trusted and, frankly, can be policed," Monaco said in an interview. "We’re going to make it our business to go after them and get those proceeds back and make it clear to them that they can’t hide."

The Department of Justice released a statement naming the veteran cybersecurity prosecutor to lead a new team dedicated to prosecuting and going after illicit cryptocurrency schemes carried out by cybercriminals and nations including North Korea and Iran. 

Illicit bitcoin transactions

Illicit transactions climbed to almost 80% to $14 billion in 2021, according to blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis. Prosecutors and regulators are urging the police to determine and investigate the matter. The police are also rushed looking through the market for other digital assets such as nonfungible tokens (NFTs), which has become a new frontier for criminals and rogue nations to steal and launder billions of dollars through anonymous avenues such as blockchain transactions, encryption and digital wallets.

The US agencies were going through a huge challenge to get companies to disclose hacking attacks and cyber vulnerabilities. The DOJ reportedly collected Bitcoin valued at about $3.6 billion this month, which were stolen during a 2016 hack, the largest financial seizure ever. The U.S. Marshals Service was also in possession of $919 million in 22 different cryptocurrencies at the end of 2021.

What will NCET do?

NCET  will work closely with components across the department, including the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section; the U.S. Attorneys’ offices; the National Security Division; and the FBI, including the FBI’s new Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit, which is a specialized team of cryptocurrency experts dedicated to providing analysis, support, and training across the FBI.

The new team aims to bust illegal activity on virtual currency exchanges as well as cryptocurrency tumbler, mixing, or services, which are used to obscure tainted funds, 41-year-old Choi explained in an interview. "We’re trying to centralize so that we’re a one-stop shop of all the subject matter experts within the department." She added, "It is going to be important for us to have a united front in trying to determine what tools and authorities we’re all bringing to this approach on digital assets."

Who is Eun Young Choi?

She is called by her colleagues as "EYC," her initials. Choi recently worked as senior counsel to Monaco on cybersecurity matters. Her appointment as director of NCFT comes after years of chasing hacking and cryptocurrency attacks.

Among her first major cases, she fronted the successful prosecution of the 2014 hack against JP Morgan Chase & Co., which saw hundreds of millions of dollars stolen by hackers and conspirators in more than a dozen countries. She also argued the appeal in the case against Ross Ulbricht, the founder and chief administrator of the now-shuttered Silk Road underground virtual drug bazaar.

Choi’s team will handle the department’s efforts to coordinate with US and international law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies and private industry. 

"What her appointment shows is that cryptocurrency is really at the intersection of complex financial investigations, cybersecurity, anti-money laundering, narcotics trafficking and cross-border enforcement," said Edward Imperatore, a colleague of Choi in the cybercrime unit of the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. "She has experience in each one of these areas."

cryptocurrency Representational image. Pixabay