U.S. charges 2 more in North Korean crypto conspiracy to dodge sanctions | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack

The U.S. Department of Justice charged two Europeans with conspiring to help North Korea evade sanctions by organizing a cryptocurrency conference. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

April 26 (UPI) — The Justice Department has charged a pair of Europeans with conspiring with a recently jailed American cryptocurrency expert to help North Korea evade sanctions, its latest move to contain Pyongyang’s sprawling cybercrime operations.

According to the indictment unsealed Monday, Spanish national Alejandro Cao De Benos, 47, and Briton Christopher Emms, 30, worked together to plan and organize a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang in 2019.

They recruited American crypto expert Virgil Griffith, 39, to attend the conference, where he provided information as to how North Korea could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade U.S. sanctions.

Griffith, a prominent hacker and programmer who worked on developing the digital currency Ethereum, was sentenced earlier this month to more than five years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Emms and Cao de Benos remained at large, the department said.

Emms, a cryptocurrency businessman, “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,'” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

“The sanctions imposed against North Korea are critical in protecting the security interests of Americans, and we continue to aggressively enforce them with our law enforcement partners both here and abroad.”

A trio of U.S. agencies issued a joint alert last week warning of Pyongyang’s escalating cyberattacks on cryptocurrency and blockchain platforms.

The FBI said this month that North Korean hackers had pulled off one of the largest crypto heists in history by stealing $620 million in Ethereum from the blockchain used by popular online game Axie Infinity.

After the 2019 conference, Emms and Cao De Benos, founder of the pro-Pyongyang Korean Friendship Association, “continued to conspire with Griffith to provide additional cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to [North Korea], including by seeking to develop potential cryptocurrency infrastructure and equipment inside North Korea,” the department said.

Both are charged with one count of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen added.

On Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to continue bolstering his regime’s nuclear weapons program at a military parade.

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