Two European citizens have been charged for conspiring with Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith to help North Korea evade U.S. sanctions using cryptocurrency, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced. They conspired “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.”
Virgil Griffith and Two Co-Conspirators at DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Monday that “two European citizens have been charged for conspiring with a U.S. citizen to assist North Korea in evading U.S. sanctions.”
The DOJ alleged that Spanish citizen Alejandro Cao de Benos and British citizen Christopher Emms “conspired with American Virgil Griffith to provide cryptocurrency and blockchain services to North Korea.”
Griffith, an Ethereum developer, was sentenced to more than five years in prison earlier this month after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). The DOJ noted that both Cao De Benos and Emms remain at large.
According to court documents, Cao De Benos and Emms recruited Griffith “to provide services at the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference and arranged Griffith’s travel to the DPRK in April 2019 for this purpose, in contravention of U.S. sanctions.”
The DOJ detailed:
Cao De Benos coordinated approval from the DPRK government for Griffith’s participation in the conference.
In addition, Emms told Griffith, “the DPRK will not stamp your passport,” claiming that he had “obtained a rare full permission” from the DPRK “for U.S. citizens to enter the country” for the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, the DOJ described.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York explained that the defendants conspired with Griffith “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.”
The Justice Department stressed that at no time did Cao De Benos, Emms, or Griffith obtain permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to provide goods, services, or technology to the DPRK. The DOJ concluded:
Cao De Benos and Emms are charged with one count of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison.