Two Chinese intelligence officials have been accused of obstructing a U.S. federal investigation by paying a Bitcoin bribe worth $61,000.
Privacy protection protocols have again been brought into the public debate as the two Chinese officials attempted to cover up Bitcoin bribes paid to the U.S. double agents using crypto-mixing techniques.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), in 2019, authorities ordered Guochun He and Zheng Wang to steal information about an ongoing criminal investigation against a global telecommunications company based in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
An official allegedly conducting foreign intelligence operations on behalf of Huawei believed that Beijing had recruited a U.S. government official. He was working with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said the complainant.
Chinese Officials Hire a Double Agent
In September 2021, Chinese officials hired a double agent to detail a meeting with prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn.
They were interested in understanding which Huawei employees were interviewed by the government to explain the prosecution’s evidence, witness lists, and trial strategy.
Guochun is said to have told his agents that the company in question was “clearly interested in the information.” He first gave up $41,000 worth of Bitcoin for stealing documents in October 2021 and another $20,000 lot in September.
Elliptic Analytics Unit Traced Bitcoin Bribes Despite Wasabi Wallet
In a private message, he allegedly asked his agent to accept Bitcoin, believing it to be “private and safe” in the eyes of the government.
Cryptocurrencies have long been thought of as a means of conducting discrete transactions, but the opposite is often true. Fundamentally, blockchain data is almost always public; although pseudonymous, transactions are traceable.
Crypto Mixer is intended to provide privacy in this open crypto financial system. There are different types of crypto mixers; they generally work by mixing funds with other users.
Mixers have gained increasing attention after being used by North Korean hackers and other bad actors. This is to launder illegal crypto harvested alongside ransomware attacks from exploits across the crypto ecosystem.
Recently, The United States barred citizens from using the Ethereum-powered cryptocurrency mixing service Tornado Cash.
Blockchain analytics firm Elliptic has discovered that two officials used a Wasabi Wallet bitcoin wallet to hide the transactions. Wasabi describes itself as an open-source, maintenance-free Bitcoin wallet built to provide privacy by default.
The wallet uses a technique called “CoinJoin” that combines Bitcoin from multiple parties to make the origin of the funds less identifiable.
“All kickback payments can be traced back to Wasabi,” Elliptic said. Elliptic co-founder and chief scientist Tom Robinson told Blockworks that the company could identify Bitcoin transactions based on details disclosed in the complaint.
Elliptic used blockchain analytics tools to trace the payment source and identify Wasabi usage. Wasabi Wallet did not immediately respond to Blockworks’ request for comment.
Both officers are accused of trying to obstruct criminal prosecution against Huawei in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. They are also accused of money laundering charges based on bribery.
They are now on the run and, if convicted, could face up to 60 years in prison and Wang up to 20 years.
The issue highlights the difficulty of hiding cryptographic activity. Whether illegal or harmless, even after funds have been transferred via hybrid cryptographic techniques like CoinJoin.