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European Citizens Arrested for “Aiding” North Korea in Bypassing Bans

Christopher Emms and Alejandro Cao De Benos, British and Spanish residents respectively, are facing charges from US authorities for aiding North Korea’s efforts against the western nation’s sanctions. Emms and De Benos reportedly used and “taught” crypto to North Korean dissidents. 

Defendants Collaborate to Aid Efforts to Evade Sanctions

The two Europeans allegedly educated the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on digital currency and blockchain services. As a result, alongside crypto expert Virgil Griffith, they worked to provide information on how to bypass bans on related transactions. According to the DOJ, the pair recruited the researcher, aged 39, solely for the operation.

Griffith holds a doctorate from the California Institute of technology and presented at Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference in 2019. Christopher Emms also spoke during the event.  Court documents note that he said digital currencies could be used to conduct international transactions regardless of sanctions. 

With Griffith, Emms taught the attendees how they could use crypto services to bypass sanctions and launder funds. According to US Attorney Damian Williams, the conference provided information to mainly evade “US sanctions meant to stop North Korea’s hostile nuclear ambitions.” 

On the other hand, Cao de Benos, established and presides over the Korean Friendship Association. The organization’s website shares its goals to “show the reality” of North Korea and the peaceful union of the Korean peninsula. 

North Korea Caught Up In Illegal Crypto Affairs

Together with the crypto expert, both Europeans collaborated to set up the Pyongyang Conference to abet the DPRK. The DOJ alleges this.

Earlier this month, US District Judge P. Kevin Castel handed co-conspirator Griffith 63 months of jail time and a $100k fine. In September last year, he pled guilty to similar charges as those mentioned above. 

Defendants Emms and Cao de Benos are currently at large, with lawyers yet to come forward as well. According to Manhattan attorneys, if found guilty of their indictment, the suspects could face sentences of up to 20 years.

This is not the first time North Korea has had ties to cases of illicit activity using digital assets. The DPRK has been accused of masterminding an operation across international exchanges involving over $2B worth of stolen crypto. The recent Ronin hack also supposedly has North Korean links.

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More recently, the US authorities alleged that hackers from the nation’s government were behind a $600 million theft. Entirely in Ethereum, the funds came from Sky Mavis, the developers behind Axie Infinity, one of the world’s biggest P2E games.

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