British man charged with conspiring to help North Korea evade US sanctions

A British man is one of two European men charged over conspiring with an American cryptocurrency developer to help North Korea evade US sanctions.

Britain’s Christopher Emms and Spain’s Alejandro Cao De Benos, allegedly worked with Virgil Griffith, to illegally provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to North Korea, according to the US attorney’s office of the Southern District of New York.

It comes as Griffith, 39, was recently jailed for five years for helping the North Korean regime evade US sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons programme.

The indictment alleges that the pair conspired with Griffith from about 2018 up to about November 2019.

The attorney’s office said that according to court documents, Emms and De Benos jointly planned and organised the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference (North Korea’s cryptocurrency conference) for the benefit of the country.

Both Emms, 30, and De Benos, 47, remain at large, the attorney’s office added.

US Attorney Damian Williams said Emms and De Benos conspired with Griffiths “to teach and advise members of the North Korean government on cutting-edge cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, all for the purpose of evading US sanctions meant to stop North Korea’s hostile nuclear ambitions”.

He added that Emms allegedly advised North Korean officials that cryptocurrency technology “made it ‘possible to transfer money across any country in the world regardless of what sanctions or any penalties that are put on any country'”.

Last September, Griffith pleaded guilty to travelling to North Korea (DPRK) to attend a blockchain conference in the capital Pyongyang in April 2019, despite having been refused permission to go there by the US Department of State.

At the conference in the capital, he “provided instruction on how the DPRK could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions”, according to the Department of Justice.

Griffiths, who lives in Singapore, avoided creating physical proof that he had been to North Korea by paying €100 for a visa which he attached to a paper separate from his US passport.

North Korea is increasingly using cryptocurrency to bypass international sanctions and could use it to help fund programmes to build weapons of mass destruction.