Two Europeans tied to North Korea's crypto conference charged by US prosecutors

Two European individuals allegedly conspired with a United States citizen to provide officials in the North Korean government information to bypass U.S. sanctions using cryptocurrency, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released Monday.

Alejandro Cao de Benos of Spain and Christopher Emms of the United Kingdom allegedly co-founded a pro-North Korea conference called the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference,” recruiting U.S citizen Virgil Griffith as a crypto expert. At the 2019 conference, in which members of the North Koreans government were present, Griffith allegedly educated attendees on how cryptocurrency and blockchain could launder money and evade sanctions.

Entities tied to North Korea have been revealed to steal cryptocurrency through hacks and malware to avoid sanctions, particularly to fund illegal weapon and nuclear missile projects, The Block previously reported. 

In 2021, Griffith pled guilty to conspiring to assist North Korea in violating International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) sanctions. The IEEPA bans a U.S person — or an international individual helping a U.S. person — from exporting goods, services or technology to North Korea without a special license from the U.S. federal government. 

“The sanctions imposed against North Korea are critical in protecting the security interests of Americans, and we continue to aggressively enforce them with our law enforcement partners both here and abroad,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in the DOJ statement. 

Griffith was sentenced to more than five years in prison and must pay a 100,000 fine. Cao de Benos and Emms remain at large, according to the DOJ report.

About Author

MK Manoylov is a reporter for The Block covering NFTs, blockchain-based gaming and cybercrime. MK holds a graduate degree from New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP).