“Internet Man of Mystery” Convicted in Crypto Scheme April 2022 | North Korea U.S. Ban on Blockchain Effective

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During a conference held in North Korea, two men participated in discussions on blockchain technology to evade sanctions imposed by the United States on the country.

Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish citizen, and Christopher Emms, a British national, have been indicted for conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions, the Department of Justice announced on Monday. The department claimed Cao de Benos and Emms worked with Virgil Griffith, a former Ethereum Foundation cryptocurrency scientist who participated in the North Korean capital’s blockchain and cryptocurrency conference in 2019. 

Griffith was sentenced to more than five years in prison this month after pleading guilty to violating sanctions. Cao de Benos, 47, and Emms, 30, face as many as 20 years in prison if convicted. They are not in U.S. custody.

Prosecutors claim Emms, a cryptocurrency businessman, told North Korean officials that blockchain technology makes it possible to “transfer money across any country in the world regardless of what sanctions or any penalties that are put on any country.”

Cao de Benos, founder of the Korean Friendship Association — a group friendly to the regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un — allegedly helped coordinate official approval for Griffith’s participation in the conference.

Griffith, 39, admitted he ignored specific State Department warnings against attending the conference. He was arrested in November 2019 in Los Angeles on charges of providing technical blockchain information to the regime. Prosecutors said the information could be used to help the country launder money and evade sanctions.

Griffith was the subject of a 2008 New York Times Magazine profile that described him as a “cult hacker” and dubbed him the “Internet Man of Mystery.“ 

The case is U.S. v. Griffith, 20-cr-00015, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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