April 15 (UPI) -- North Korea may have more than $700 million of cryptocurrency after hacking into mainly South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges, according to a British think tank.
The Royal United Services Institute said in a report released Monday the Kim Jong Un regime breached bitcoin trading hubs in South Korea, the United States, Japan and Britain, earning the country cryptocurrency that's valued between $545 million and $735 million.
According to RUSI, North Korea began to take greater advantage of cryptocurrency exchanges following the adoption of the toughest international sanctions against Pyongyang in 2017. That year, South Korea's YouBit and Bithumb exchanges were breached, and a "WannaCry" ransomware attack was launched across a number of computer networks.
The think tank said in its report cryptocurrency may have been used for North Korea purchases of luxury goods, including jewelry, and to protect identities when North Koreans purchased properties overseas.
"Luxury goods are increasingly accessible using cryptocurrencies. Some high-value goods dealers such as sports car dealerships, jewelers, auctioneers and estate agents now accept payments in cryptocurrencies," the report states.
North Korea's accumulation of cryptocurrency is being evaluated at a time when the regime could be expanding its fleet of commercial aircraft.
Russia's Tass news agency reported Sunday the North Korean foreign ministry is signaling interest in purchasing Russian planes.
"At a meeting at the North Korean foreign ministry, we touched upon the issue of civil aviation and flight safety. The North Korean side expressed interest in buying new Russian planes," said Sergei Neverov, a deputy vice chairman of the Russian State Duma lower house of parliament.
"We maintain air service between Pyongyang and Vladivostok and, naturally, we would like to see more advanced and safer planes serving this route."
Pyongyang's Air Koryo currently operates Li-18 and Tu-154 planes. Tu-204 planes are used for international flights, according to the report.