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Two more charged with teaching North Koreans to evade US sanctions with crypto

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A United States district court has charged two European citizens in connection to a blockchain and cryptocurrency conference in North Korea which violated U.S. sanctions back in 2019. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the court documents allege that Alejandro Cao De Benos, a citizen of Spain, and Christopher Emms, a citizen of the United Kingdom, conspired to violate U.S. sanctions on North Korea when they jointly planned and organized the 2019 Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.

The pair allegedly worked with former Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith to provide instruction on how the DPRK could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions. Later, the three continued to provide additional cryptocurrency and blockchain services to the sanctioned nation by seeking to help them build cryptocurrency infrastructure and equipment.

Griffith is well known in the cryptocurrency space for his extensive work on the Ethereum cryptocurrency platform during its early years. He was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in November 2019 for his connection to the conference and pleaded guilty in September last year for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)

On April 12, he was sentenced to 63 months in prison and slapped with a $100,000 fine.

The indictment also alleges that Cao De Benos and Emms recruited Griffith to speak at the DPRK conference and arranged his travel to the DPRK in 2019 for this purpose. It also alleges that Cao De Benos coordinated with the DPRK government for Griffith’s participation in the conference.

The pair have been charged with one count of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions in violation of the IEEPA, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

In an accompanying statement published by the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI issued a stark warning to any persons or companies thinking of circumventing U.S. sanctions against a foreign government.

Acting assistant director Bradley S. Benavides of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division said:

“Those contemplating evading U.S. sanctions against a foreign government should know the FBI and its partners will aggressively investigate these cases.”

The indictment comes at an interesting time after the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) recently announced it will be targeting entities and individuals involved in attempts to evade sanctions imposed by the United States and its international partners on Russia.

Related: US Treasury Dept lists crypto mining firm in latest sanctions against Russia

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had named a Russia-based crypto mining services provider BitRiver AG and several subsidiaries as firms facilitating the evasion of sanctions.

“The United States is committed to ensuring that no asset, no matter how complex, becomes a mechanism for the Putin regime to offset the impact of sanctions.”

On Friday, OFAC announced it had sanctioned three Ethereum addresses allegedly linked to the North Korean linked theft of more than $600 million in crypto from nonfungible token (NFT) game Axie Infinity’s Ronin sidechain in March.



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