Cambodia's Huione Guarantee Linked to $11 Billion in Global Scams: Report

Huione Guarantee linked to $11 billion in global scams, facilitating pig-butchering and money laundering since 2021.

By Barry Stearns

7/10, 08:16 EDT
Bitcoin / U.S. dollar
Bitcoin / US Dollar
ethereum USD

Key Takeaway

  • Huione Guarantee, linked to Cambodia's ruling family, is implicated in global scams worth $11 billion, including pig-butchering scams.
  • Users primarily transact using USDT, enabling blockchain tracing of fund flows by crypto-tracing firm Elliptic.
  • Despite disclaimers and lack of response from officials, the platform's role in facilitating online scams raises significant concerns for investors.

Huione Guarantee's Role in Crypto Scams

Huione Guarantee, a Cambodian online financial platform linked to the nation's ruling family, has been identified as a significant player in the global scam economy, particularly in facilitating "pig-butchering" scams. According to research by Wired and crypto-tracing firm Elliptic, the platform has enabled scams amounting to $11 billion. Huione Guarantee provides deposit and escrow services for peer-to-peer transactions conducted over Telegram, primarily using USDT, the world's largest stablecoin. This allows users to engage in various illicit activities, including deepfake scams, money laundering, and pig butchering, where victims are financially drained by their apparent admirers.

Elliptic's cofounder and chief scientist, Tom Robinson, stated, "I’m not sure whether Huione Guarantee was originally established with this in mind, but it’s certainly become primarily a marketplace for online scammers." The platform is part of Huione Group, a Cambodian conglomerate with ties to the ruling Hun family, including Prime Minister Hun Manet. Despite attempts to reach Huione Guarantee for comment, no response was received.

The Scale of Pig Butchering Scams

Pig butchering scams have become a massive criminal industry, netting an estimated $75 billion from 2020 to February 2023. The FBI reported that crypto-investment fraud losses in the US alone reached $3.94 billion in 2023. These scams often involve elaborate forced-labor schemes, with victims coerced into working in compounds across Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, the Philippines, and Cambodia. Elliptic's research revealed that Huione Guarantee has facilitated $11 billion in transactions since its launch in 2021, with $3.4 billion occurring this year alone.

The platform's offerings span the entire pig butchering industry, from shock-enabled GPS tracking shackles and electric batons used in human trafficking operations to data on potential scam targets and deepfake face-altering services. Money laundering services are also available, helping scammers liquidate and obfuscate the source of stolen Tether. Robinson noted, "Scammers no longer need to acquire victims' contact details, build telecoms infrastructure, or launder the scam proceeds themselves. They can outsource each of these to this community of service providers."

The Broader Implications

Huione Guarantee's operations highlight the broader implications of the pig butchering industry. The platform's public nature, despite its illicit activities, is particularly concerning given its links to Cambodia's ruling family. Robinson suggested that international sanctions targeting Huione's leadership could disrupt this criminal industry. "This has the hallmarks of a darknet marketplace, but it's run by a large Cambodian conglomerate, which has documented links to the ruling family there," he said. "There is surely scope to impose sanctions on a business such as this, to hinder this type of marketplace from operating."

The platform's activities are part of a larger trend of decentralized money laundering methods used by pig butchers, often involving individual Chinese citizens who accept and hand off cryptocurrency through their personal Alipay accounts for a small fee. Markets like Huione Guarantee offer a path for scammers who lack a laundering network or need to diversify their options for liquidating funds.

Street Views

  • Tom Robinson, Elliptic (Bearish on Huione Guarantee):

    "I’m not sure whether Huione Guarantee was originally established with this in mind, but it’s certainly become primarily a marketplace for online scammers."