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Chainalysis report reveals $8.6 billion in crypto laundered in 2021, more than 2020

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Crypto crime can be a controversial subject, as the often unregulated nature of the asset makes it easy to accuse investors and entrepreneurs of money laundering – while missing out on real scammers and criminals.

That said, Chainalysis’ new report shines a light on crypto crime trends in 2021, revealing a number of surprises.

Scrubbing out crypto crime?

To make a long story short – these are formidable numbers. However, there is plenty of nuance to note as well.

Here’s what you need to know. $8.6 billion in crypto was laundered in 2021. While this is much higher than the $6.6 billion in crypto laundered in 2020, it is a definite fall from 2019’s grand total of $10.9 billion.

Next, a particularly curious investor might wonder which crypto was the most popular with illicit actors. Spoiler alert: not Bitcoin. Chainalysis reported,

“The 20 biggest money laundering deposit addresses receive just 19% of all Bitcoin sent from illicit addresses, compared to 57% for stablecoins, 63% for Ethereum, and 68% for altcoins.”

After this, we need to look at whether crypto launderers favor CeFi or DeF. While the report noted that centralized exchanges were the preferred location to move laundered funds, DeFi protocols have been growing in popularity.

The report observed,

“DeFi protocols received 17% of all funds sent from illicit wallets in 2021, up from 2% the previous year. That translates to a 1,964% year-over-year increase in total value received by DeFi protocols from illicit addresses, reaching a total of $900 million in 2021.”

Time to air your dirty laundry

The analytics portal also recorded how huge amounts of crypto were sent to a “shockingly small” number of criminals. But putting things into perspective, Chainalysis reminded readers that crypto laundering made up only 0.05% of all crypto transactions last year.

Furthermore, there could be some intriguing reasons behind the fall in laundered crypto that was recorded in 2021, when compared to 2019. One factor might be the USA’s Office of Foreign Assets Control or OFAC, which is strict about enforcing sanctions against offenders. Two crypto platforms, Suex and Chatex, discovered this first hand.

Next year’s report will reveal whether 2022 will see changes in crypto laundering or just more of the same.

This laundromat accepts digital yuan

News wires flashed worldwide late last year when China announced what was recorded as its first case of crypto money laundering – using the digital yuan CBDC.

While tracking laundered fiat and crypto is a Herculean challenge, it remains to be seen whether a country’s fintech privacy regulations will make it easier to track down those who launder CBDCs.


Sahana is a full-time journalist at AMBCrypto. She has a Masters in Journalism and her areas of study include crypto-regulation, digital society, privacy, and intersectionality. Ask her about film photography and philately.
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