After months of anticipation, a federal judge has finally ruled in the closely watched case of Joseph Van Loon, et al. v. Department of Treasury, et al. This important case addressed challenges to the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) decision to impose sanctions on Tornado Cash as a Specially Designated National and Blocked Person (SDN). The judge granted summary judgement in favor of OFAC, finding it had sufficient legal authority to designate Tornado Cash, and denied summary judgement on the plaintiffs’ claims. Shortly after that ruling, OFAC announced the SDN designation of Roman Semenov, one of three alleged co-founders of Tornado Cash, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Semenov and Roman Storm, another Tornado Cash founder, with multiple alleged criminal violations related to anti-money laundering (AML) and economic sanctions laws.
All three actions are critical developments that contain key insights on how the US government views the AML and sanctions obligations of decentralized protocols and individuals associated with those protocols. The developments make clear that, at least in certain scenarios, individuals involved in the creation of a DeFi platform can be held responsible for the activities conducted on that platform where such conduct violates US economic sanctions or AML laws, or constitutes sanctionable activity under applicable executive orders.