U.S. Charges 2 Europeans Over North Korean Crypto Conspiracy

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Two individuals are charged in a federal indictment declassified Tuesday in the Southern District of New York with colluding to contravene US sanctions against North Korea by illegally providing crypto and blockchain technology services to the communist country in collaboration with US citizen Virgil Griffith.

Alejandro Cao de Benos of Spain, who created a pro-Pyongyang affinity group, and Christopher Emms of the United Kingdom, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur, were charged with hiring Virgil Griffith to offer North Korea with bitcoin and blockchain technology services unlawfully.

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Helping Crypto Developer Fly To Pyongyang

Prosecutors allege that Benos, 47, and Emms, 30, conspired to arrange for Griffith, who holds a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology, to fly to North Korea via China in April 2019 to attend the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.

The two Europeans allegedly advised attendees and representatives of North Korea’s leadership how to use advanced blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies to circumvent sanctions and launder money at the conference.

The allegations come on the heels of Ethereum creator Griffith’s five-year prison sentence earlier this month, and coincide with the US government’s increased focus on North Korea’s audacious claimed cyberattacks of crypto projects around the world.

Crypto total market cap at $1.78 trillion on the daily chart | Source:

Teaching The North’s Leaders How To Dodge Sanctions

Griffith, a well-known hacker and coder, pled guilty to conspiring to aid North Korea in circumventing sanctions in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel imposes a $100,000 fine on him.

Benos and Emms are at large. The attorneys for the two defendants could not be identified immediately. If convicted, each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison.

Matthew Olsen, Assistant Attorney General, stated:

“The US will not permit the North Korean government to employ cryptocurrencies to circumvent global restrictions aimed at thwarting its nuclear proliferation and regional instability ambitions.”

Under the IEEPA and Executive Order 13466, US citizens are prohibited from exporting any goods, services, or technology to the DPRK without first obtaining a license from the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and it is illegal to conspire with US citizens to do so.

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North Korea's cybercriminals extracted around $400 million in cryptoassets last year, blockchain researcher Chainalysis said. (Image credit: Cointelegraph)

Warning: North Korea’s Cyberattacks Escalating

Meanwhile, a trio of US government agencies has released a combined warning of North Korea’s growing assaults on bitcoin and blockchain networks.

The US Treasury Department, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued the advisory Tuesday in response to a $620 million cryptocurrency robbery carried out by the Pyongyang-linked Lazarus Group.

The warning is intended to raise awareness of the cyber threat posed by cryptocurrency thefts and the tactics employed by a North Korean state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) cell since at least 2020, the agencies said.

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