Pair Charged Over Planning 2019 North Korea Blockchain Conference

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  • The organizers of the 2019 Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference are wanted by U.S. authorities
  • Alejandro cao de Benos and Christopher Emms planned the conference, recruiting Virgil Griffith to talk
  • Griffith was arrested in 2019 and was recently sentenced to five years in prison for his talk

Two Europeans who allegedly planned the North Korean blockchain conference that led to the recent jailing of Virgil Griffith have themselves been charged with helping the country to evade U.S. sanctions. Spaniard Alejandro cao de Benos and Briton Christopher Emms were on Monday accused of organizing the 2019 Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, convincing Griffith to attend and give a talk. Griffith was recently jailed for five years and handed a $100,000 fine after pleading guilty to helping North Korea evade sanctions through the use of cryptocurrencies, and now the organizers are being sought.

Pyongyang Crypto Conference Originated in the West

Few people seemed to have been aware that the 2019 Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference was planned by westerners, but this is the claim made Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York. The charge claims that Emms and cao de Benos began planning the conference in early 2018, securing Griffith to give a talk on the benefits of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology and even confirming through the rogue state that his passport would not be stamped.

Griffith attended, with his attendance resulting in a five-year sentence handed down two weeks ago, but Emms also spoke at the conference, allegedly claiming that it was “possible to transfer money across any country in the world regardless of what sanctions or any penalties that are put on any country” when introducing Griffith.

2020 Return Was in the Works

U.S. authorities also allege that the collaboration between the trio and North Korea didn’t stop after the conference:

After the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, CAO DE BENOS and EMMS continued to conspire with Griffith to provide additional cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to the DPRK, including by seeking to develop potential cryptocurrency infrastructure and equipment inside North Korea, attempting to broker introductions for DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference attendees, through Griffith, to other cryptocurrency service providers, and recruiting others through Griffith’s contacts, including Americans, to provide expert services relating to cryptocurrency to the DPRK.

The trio were also planning a followup conference in 2020, but this was scrapped when Griffith was arrested in November 2019.

Emms, who is thought to reside in either Gibraltar or Malta, describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” and was last known to be Managing Partner at Decentralised Ventures and CEO of TokenKey. He has been absent from social media since April 2018, when the authorities allege he was planning the North Korea conference, and his whereabouts are unclear.

cao de Benos however has not been hiding, tweeting yesterday about his need for legal assistance in order to “defend myself against the false accusation of the US empire”:

The pair have each been charged with one count of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.