Kraken Under Investigation for Alleged Sanctions Violations: Report

The NY Times reported that Kraken allegedly allowed Iranian users onto the platform.

AccessTimeIconJul 26, 2022 at 6:18 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:01 p.m. UTC
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Crypto exchange Kraken is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department on suspicion it allowed Iranian users to utilize the site's services in violation of federal sanctions.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Treasury Department was likely to impose a fine against the exchange, though it did not suggest a timeline for the enforcement action.

Kraken sent CoinDesk a statement from Chief Legal Officer Marco Santori saying that the exchange would not comment "on specific discussions with regulators."

"Kraken has robust compliance measures in place and continues to grow its compliance team to match its business growth. Kraken closely monitors compliance with sanctions laws and, as a general matter, reports to regulators even potential issues," Santori said.

A recent Reuters investigation found that crypto exchange Binance continued to allow Iranian users to place trades despite the sanctions and a company ban on doing business there.

Federal sanctions have long been a tool for the U.S. government to block individuals or nations from accessing the global financial system. Multiple crypto-users and addresses in Iran have been sanctioned in the past.

Several crypto platforms have proactively blocked Iranian users. NFT trading site OpenSea blocked Iranian users earlier this year, while Ethereum incubator ConsenSys blocked Iranian students from a coding boot camp in 2021.

Treasury has also not been shy about fining crypto companies in the past. BitGo, a crypto exchange, and BitPay, a transaction processor, have both faced steep Treasury fines for alleged sanctions violations.

Kraken’s CEO and co-founder, Jesse Powell, has been vocal about his willingness to challenge regulations he sees as unfair, including international sanctions.

In February, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Powell pushed back against calls to freeze the accounts of Kraken’s Russian users, tweeting: “Our mission at [Kraken] is to bridge individual humans out of the legacy financial system and to bring them into the world of crypto, where arbitrary lines on maps no longer matter, where they don’t have to worry about being caught in broad, indiscriminate wealth confiscation.”

In a corporate culture memo released in June, Kraken also described itself as a company that believes the “weaponization of the financial system is immoral” and promised to “engage in disputes with government agencies where outdated laws are unfairly exclusionary.”

UPDATE (July 26, 18:29 UTC): Added statement from Kraken and additional background.

UPDATE (July 26, 18:35 UTC): Added information on Powell's past comments.

UPDATE (July 26, 18:43 UTC): Added information on Reuters report on Binance.

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Nikhilesh De

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.

Cheyenne Ligon

Cheyenne Ligon was a CoinDesk news reporter with a focus on crypto regulation and policy. She has no significant crypto holdings.


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