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News Report

DOJ Launches Legal Action Against Europeans Over North Korean Sanctions Violations

2 mins
Updated by Geraint Price

In Brief

  • Two Europeans have been charged with conspiring to provide North Korea with assistance on how to evade U.S. sanctions.
  • The men had affiliations with an ex-Ethereum Foundation developer that was sentenced to over five years in prison.
  • Regulators are clamping down on the use of cryptocurrencies to evade sanctions.
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The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has instituted legal proceedings against two Europeans for their role in the North Korean 2019 blockchain conference. 

The duo of Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish citizen, and Christopher Emms, a citizen of the United Kingdom have been issued with a “superseding indictment” by the Department of Justice. 

The DOJ revealed that both Cao de Benos and Emms are charged with “conspiring to violate United States sanctions” on North Korea by working to provide illegal blockchain services.

Emms wanted North Korean officials to turn their attention to blockchain technology because of the possibility it provided “to transfer money across any country in the world regardless of what sanctions or penalties that are put on any country.”

North Korea has been facing sanctions over its ambition to increase its nuclear weapons arsenal and Emms’ pitch allegedly played a role in the North Korean blockchain conference that was held in 2019. 

According to the DOJ, Emms and Cao de Benos played integral roles in the conference.

DOJ claims the pair presented strategies on sanctions evasion

Firstly, Cao de Benos recruited Virgil Griffith, an Ethereum developer, and told him that his passport would not be stamped. The trio made a presentation to North Korean officials and included plans to create “specialized smart contracts” and strategies on how to evade sanctions.

Virgil Griffith was sentenced to 63 months in prison for his role in the conference after he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to violate sanctions against North Korea. In addition to jail, Griffith was also given a $100,000 fine.

Following Griffith’s indictment, Emms and Cao de Benos may face steeper penalties for their roles. The duo remains at large and there might be some legal wrangling to be done since they are not U.S. citizens.

“The United States will not allow the North Korean regime to use cryptocurrency to evade global sanctions designed to thwart its goals of nuclear proliferation and regional destabilization,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen. 

“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.

There has been growing concern that Russia might be using cryptocurrencies to circumvent the sanctions imposed in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. 

The efforts of the U.S in stifling the use of digital assets by the Russian government have been carried out with a great deal of enthusiasm, including the setting up of a task force.


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