Balance of Power: Want to Give Sanctions the Slip? Buy Bitcoin

(Bloomberg) -- You can take Kim Jong Un’s oil, but what about his bitcoin?

Even as President Donald Trump’s administration touted a deal on new sanctions against North Korea, online sleuths were sounding the alarm over the regime’s pursuit of an asset that could keep money flowing for its weapons programs: crypto currencies.

As Bloomberg’s Yuji Nakamura and Sam Kim report, cybersecurity outfit FireEye has traced hacks of South Korean bitcoin and ethereum exchanges to North Korean operators. The incidents — including one in May that coincided with an exchange’s $15 million loss — show the difficulty in denying cash to a regime with years of experience circumventing sanctions. It already exports “Made-in-China” clothing and launders tens of millions of dollars across baccarat tables.

By deploying North Korea’s hacker army, Kim is showing he has little to fear from the UN Security Council. And with China and Russia signaling they’ve reached their limit on approving sanctions, the options for Trump to tighten the net around Kim are increasingly limited.

Balance of Power: Want to Give Sanctions the Slip? Buy Bitcoin

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Global Headlines

Tax roadshow rolls on | Trump will stump for overhauling the U.S. tax code in as many as 13 states over the next seven weeks as he tries to avoid a repeat of the communications failures that helped scuttle his Obamacare-repeal effort. The route covers states the president won in which Democratic senators are up for re-election, including Florida, Indiana and Michigan.

Power of the purse | Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s victory makes her the first conservative to win re-election in more than three decades. The result validates her decision to tap the country’s almost $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund to blunt an oil-induced downturn. It also represents a setback to parties like the Greens, who had sought to end Norwegian petroleum exploration. 

Hack complicates deregulation drive | Republican efforts to roll back rules enacted after the global financial crisis face emboldened Democratic resistance in the wake of the massive Equifax data breach. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday that the administration would review stronger personal-data safeguards, a move that would likely empower a Republican bugbear: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Islamic State is back in Libya | Less than a year after Libyan forces declared victory over Islamic State, the terror group’s return to the Mediterranean coastline shows how little battlefield success can mean without political stability, Bloomberg’s Ghaith Shennib reports. Militants are now “dangerously active” in an area roughly the size of Denmark, according to local officials. 

Ex-guerrilla atop polls | Colombia’s streak as the only major South American country to never have a leftist government may soon end. Voters go to the ballot boxes next year for the first time since the end of the five-decade civil war. Bloomberg’s Matthew Bristow profiles former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, the early frontrunner who wants to tax wealthy landowners and stock investors. 

And finally... Trump will have much to discuss when he hosts his one-time golfing buddy, Malyasian Prime Minister Najib Razak, at the White House today. The two leaders share concerns over North Korea, China’s maritime expansion and Islamist terror. But there’s one topic they’ll likely dance around: The U.S. probe into the alleged theft of billions from a Malaysia state fund linked to Najib.

Balance of Power: Want to Give Sanctions the Slip? Buy Bitcoin

To contact the author of this story: Brendan Scott in Singapore at