United States prosecutors have slammed charges against two Europeans for allegedly conspiring with recently sentenced Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith to help North Korea evade US sanctions with cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
Two Suspects Tied to 2019 Pyongyang Crypto Conference
According to a Department of Justice (DoJ) press release on Monday (April 25, 2022), 47-year-old Spanish citizen Alejandro Cao de Benos and a 30-year-old British citizen, Christopher Emms, founded the Korean Friendship Association back in 2018. Later, they organized a Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea.
Both Cao de Benos and Emms recruited Griffith, a U.S. citizen, to speak at the cryptocurrency conference in April 2019. The prosecutors also said Emms assured Griffith that his passport will not be stamped to avoid alerting U.S. authorities about his travel to the DPRK.
Furthermore, the British suspect “obtained a rare full permission” from North Korea to enable the Ethereum developer to enter the country for the conference. The indictment also alleged that Emms and Griffith taught their North Korean audience ways how to use crypto to circumvent sanctions imposed by the United States.
The two European suspects face a single count charge for “conspiring to violate and evade US sanctions” in contravention of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). Such a charge comes with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Griffith’s Guilty Plea Slashes Prison Sentence
While Cao de Benos and Emms remain at large, Griffith, who was initially arrested by U.S. authorities in 2019 after returning from North Korea, was recently sentenced to 63 months (5 years and three months) in prison along with a fine of $100,000.
Meanwhile, Griffith’s guilty plea caused a reduction in his prison sentence from the maximum of 20 years.
According to a statement by Matthew Olson, Assistant Attorney General said in the DoJ press release:
“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. 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.”