Spanish and British men alleged to have helped DPRK evade crypto sanctions

The US Department of Justice (‘DoJ’) has indicted two men, UK citizen Christopher Emms and Alejandro Cao De Benos of Spain, ‘with conspiring to violate United States sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…by working with U.S. citizen Virgil Griffith to illegally provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to the DPRK.’

Griffith, it said, who had previously pled guilty to conspiring to assist North Korea in evading sanctions in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (‘IEEPA’), has received a sentence of 63 months in prison and a $100,000 fine. Cao De Benos and Emms remain ‘at large’, according to the Department.

US Attorney Damian Williams said, ‘As alleged, Alejandro Cao de Benos and Christopher Emms conspired with Virgil Griffith, a cryptocurrency expert convicted of conspiring to violate economic sanctions imposed on North Korea, to teach and advise members of the North Korean government on cutting-edge cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, all for the purpose of evading U.S. sanctions meant to stop North Korea’s hostile nuclear ambitions.’

The DoJ indictment outlines how, beginning in or about early 2018, ‘Cao de Benos, the founder of the “Korean Friendship Association,” a pro-DPRK affinity organization, and Emms, a cryptocurrency businessman, partnered to jointly plan and organize the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference” (the “DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference”) for the benefit of the DPRK.

‘Cao de Benos and Emms recruited Griffith, an American cryptocurrency expert, to provide services to the DPRK at the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference and arranged Griffith’s travel to the DPRK in April 2019 for this purpose, in contravention of U.S. sanctions. Cao de Benos coordinated approval from the DPRK government for Griffith’s participation in the Conference. Emms confirmed for Griffith that “the DPRK will not stamp your passport,” which could risk revealing Griffith’s travel to U.S. authorities, and that Emms had “obtained a rare full permission” from the DPRK “for US citizens to enter the country” for the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference.’


Spanish and British men alleged to have helped DPRK evade crypto sanctions