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US Treasury: Court dismisses Coin Center’s Tornado Cash lawsuit

The virtual currency mixer was sanctioned by the Treasury in 2022 as a widely-used money laundering protocol for North Korean interests.

A U.S. district court has dismissed Coin Center‘s lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury, in which the crypto advocacy group claimed that the Treasury overstepped its legal authority by sanctioning Tornado Cash—a move that it alleged infringes upon the privacy rights of many Americans.

As reported in the summary judgment, Coin Center argued that the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) designation of Tornado Cash violated the First Amendment, which protects the right to association. Coin Center contended that the sanctioning blocked a financial privacy tool they relied on to make donations to organizations and causes and was not narrowly tailored to achieve its aims.

However, the court ruled that the First Amendment was not violated by OFAC’s designation of Tornado Cash. The court further stated that even if it were, the designation satisfied the requisite level of scrutiny

The judgment

The key points of the ruling are:

  • OFAC did not exceed its statutory authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by designating Tornado Cash’s core software tool because foreigners (the founders, developers, and DAO) have a financial “interest” in the increased use and popularity of Tornado Cash as a whole.
  • The designation was not arbitrary and capricious because there is evidence Tornado Cash laundered funds for North Korea. The designation aligns with U.S. sanctions policy, and OFAC considered reliance interests and potential losses through its licensing scheme.
  • The designation did not violate the First Amendment because there is no right to use a particular financial tool for donations, and it did not compel disclosure of donors or prevent anonymous donations.
  • The court granted summary judgment for the government defendants and denied it for the plaintiffs, dismissing the case.

The court noted that plaintiffs did not cite any authority supporting the existence of a First Amendment right to use a particular service or type of currency to make donations for charitable or other purposes. Importantly, unlike previous freedom of association cases cited by plaintiffs, the designation of Tornado Cash did not compel private associations to disclose anything about their donors or members.

According to an August 2022 Treasury press release, Tornado Cash was sanctioned due to its role in laundering more than $7 billion worth of virtual currency since its creation in 2019, including over $455 million stolen by the Lazarus Group, a North Korean state-sponsored hacking group

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