Politics

US sanctions companies working as Russian’s proxy to meddle in 2020 presidential election

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Today’s actions highlight how multiple Russian officials, proxies, and intelligence agencies coordinated to interfere with recent U.S. elections.

Washington DC, April 16: The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took sweeping action against 16 entities and 16 individuals including a Pakistan-based company and six individuals for acting on behalf of the Russian network that attempted to meddle in the 2020 United States presidential election.

The sanctions were imposed on “Second Eye Solution”, and six Pakistani nationals, along with 32 Russian entities and individuals, who attempted to influence the presidential polls at the the direction of the leadership of the Russian Government.
Secondeye Solution (SES), also known as Forwarderz, is a Pakistan-based organization that provided fake identity documents for people to sign up for accounts with cryptocurrency exchanges, payment providers, banks, and more under false identities. SES assisted the IRA in concealing its identity to evade sanctions. According to the Department of Justice indictment, SES provided documents to over 200 countries and territories.

The Internet Research Agency (IRA) here is a Russian troll farm that Office of Foreign Assets Control, (OFAC) previously designated for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

Three of the entities and one of the individuals that were added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) have digital currency addresses associated with them.

Since at least 2012, SES engaged in a scheme to provide digital photographs of fake documents including passports, driver’s licenses, bank statements, utility bills, and national identity documents.

“SES markets these fake documents for use to verify online accounts including money service business accounts and social media website accounts. In 2017, the IRA purchased 15 fraudulent U.S. driver licenses images from SES. The purchased licenses were used as supporting documents for online social media accounts opened by the IRA,” the department said.

“Pakistani Nationals Mohsin Raza, Mujtaba Raza, Syed Hasnain, Muhammad Hayat, Syed Raza, and Shahzad Ahmed are the owners and employees who were instrumental in processing payment for fraudulent identities. Fresh Air Farm House, Like Wise, and MK Softtech are four Pakistani front companies used to launder SES profits,” the department added.
The statement further said that the fraudulent documents produced by SES are likely used at many online services to evade sanctions and anti-money laundering (AML) screening protocols beyond what OFAC has been able to identify.
“As part of today’s listing of SES on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, OFAC is also identifying digital currency addresses used by SES to fulfill customer orders in order to help assist financial institutions, and their third-party identity verification services, in identifying customers on their platforms who have purchased fraudulent identity documents. Known SES digital currency addresses have received over 2.5 million dollars in digital currencies over more than 26,900 transactions from 2013 to March 2021,” the department said.

This announcement follows the Intelligence Community’s (IC) “Assessment of Foreign Threats to the 2020 U.S. Federal Elections.” The IC assessment addresses the intentions and efforts of key foreign actors, including Russia, to influence or interfere with the U.S. elections and undermine public confidence in the election process. Russia employed a system of government officials, disinformation outlets, and companies to covertly influence U.S. voters and spread misinformation about U.S. political candidates and U.S. election processes and institutions.

“Treasury will target Russian leaders, officials, intelligence services, and their proxies that attempt to interfere in the U.S. electoral process or subvert U.S. democracy,” said Secretary Janet L. Yellen. “This is the start of a new U.S. campaign against Russian malign behavior.”

Today’s actions highlight how multiple Russian officials, proxies, and intelligence agencies coordinated to interfere with recent U.S. elections. Private and public sector corruption facilitated by President Vladimir Putin has enriched his network of confidants, who used their illicit business connections to advance Russia’s campaign to undermine the 2020 U.S. presidential election—and to give Russia plausible deniability in its disinformation activities. Members of this network include First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia Alexei Gromov (Gromov), previously designated as a government official pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13661. Gromov leads the Kremlin’s use of its media apparatus that sought to exacerbate tensions in the United States by discrediting the 2020 U.S. election process. As a result, Treasury is designating Gromov pursuant to E.O. 13848 for having attempted to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

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