In a significant move against financial crime, Tether, the issuer of the stablecoin USDT, has frozen assets totaling $225 million. This decisive action forms part of an extensive investigation by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) into a Southeast Asia-based criminal group involved in romance scams.
The frozen funds, held in external self-custodial wallets, have been linked to a nefarious “pig butchering” scheme. In this type of fraud, criminals build online romantic relationships with victims, luring them into making legitimate investments before defrauding them.
This breakthrough follows a months-long investigation by Tether, crypto exchange OKX, the DOJ, and U.S. law enforcement.
Tether CEO Paolo Ardoino emphasized the company’s dedication to creating a safe crypto environment. “Our recent collaboration with the Department of Justice underscores our dedication to fostering a secure environment,” he stated. Arduino further highlighted Tether’s ongoing efforts to work with global law enforcement agencies in combating illicit activities within the crypto space.
This latest action by Tether is the largest of its kind in the company’s history, surpassing previous collaborations, such as the coordination with Israel’s National Bureau for Counter-Terror Financing to freeze assets used for funding terrorist activities.
The Largest Asset Freeze in Tether’s History
It underscores Tether’s ability and willingness to take significant steps in response to law enforcement requests, setting a new precedent in the stablecoin industry. The ability of stablecoin issuers like Tether to freeze funds contrasts with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which are designed to be beyond the control of any single authority.
This incident highlights the unique nature of stablecoins in the digital currency landscape and raises questions about the balance between regulatory compliance and the decentralized ethos of cryptocurrencies.