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2 Europeans indicted for teaching N. Koreans how to evade U.S. sanctions with cryptocurrency

All News 05:03 April 26, 2022

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, April 25 (Yonhap) -- Two individuals have been indicted for teaching North Koreans how to evade U.S. sanctions using cryptocurrency, the U.S. justice department revealed Monday.

The department said one Spaniard and one British national have been charged in the Southern District of New York with "conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)," referring to North Korea by its official name.

It said the two are suspected of having worked with a U.S. citizen, Virgil Griffith, to illegally provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to North Korea, adding the two had jointly planned and organized a conference on blockchain and cryptocurrency for North Koreans.

"As alleged, Alejandro Cao de Benos (of Spain) and Christopher Emms (of Britain) 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," Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was quoted as saying.

The justice department said Griffith pleaded guilty to conspiring to assist North Korea in evading sanctions, and that he was sentenced to 63 months in prison and a US$100,000 fine on April 12.

"This indictment, along with the successful prosecution of co-conspirator, Virgil Griffith, makes clear that the department will hold anyone, wherever located, accountable for conspiring with North Korea to violate U.S. sanctions," said Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general at the justice department's national security division.

Both Cao de Benos and Emms currently remain at large, and may face a "maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison" if convicted, according to the justice department.

The U.S. and the U.N. Panel of Experts on North Korea recently pointed to Pyongyang's growing cyber capabilities and that the impoverished North is increasingly engaged in cyber activities to steal cryptocurrency to finance its nuclear and missile programs.

The U.S. earlier said a group of North Korean hackers, widely known as Lazarus, was responsible for the heist of over $620 million in cryptocurrency from Axie Infinity, a play-to-earn online game, earlier this year.


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