A Spanish man accused of teaching North Korea how to evade US sanctions using cryptocurrencies faces 20 years in prison

Exchange rates of cryptocurrencies in Seoul
Exchange rates of cryptocurrencies at an exchange office in Seoul, South Korea, in December 2017.Getty Images
  • A Spanish man accused of teaching North Korea to use cryptocurrency faces 20 years in prison.

  • Alejandro Cao de Benós, accused of helping North Korea evade US sanctions, is wanted by the FBI.

  • He was arrested at a Madrid train station last week, Spanish police said.

A Spanish man is facing 20 years in prison in the US after he was arrested on suspicion of teaching North Koreans how to evade US sanctions using cryptocurrencies, according to Spain's National Police.

Alejandro Cao de Benós was arrested last Friday at a Madrid train station after Interpol alerted Spanish authorities of his possible presence on Spanish soil, the police statement said.

"The investigators found out that he was leaving on a train from Barcelona to Madrid and was identified and detained upon his arrival in Madrid," the statement said, adding that he might have been using false documentation.

Spain's National Police didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

US authorities issued an arrest warrant for Cao de Benós in 2022, alleging that he worked with a US citizen to "illegally" provide cryptocurrency and blockchain-technology services to North Korea, according to an FBI wanted list.

It said Cao de Benós was the founder of the Korean Friendship Association.

According to the Spanish police, Cao de Benós is accused of organizing several conferences on cryptocurrencies and blockchain in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, in 2018, bypassing sanctions imposed by the United States.

He could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison in the US, the police said.

Virgil Griffiths, the US citizen involved, was sentenced to 63 months in jail and fined $100,000 in 2022 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to violate the Trump-era International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The Office of Public Affairs said in a press release at the time of his sentencing that Griffith knew North Korea "could use these services to evade and avoid U.S. sanctions, and to fund its nuclear weapons program and other illicit activities."

Cao de Benós, for his part, denied the accusations. In a statement released on Saturday, he called them "totally false."

"There is not a shred of evidence that I hired or solicited the services of Virgil Griffin," he said.

North Korea has looked to exploit cryptocurrencies.

North Korean hackers stole $3 billion in cryptocurrency over five years by masquerading as recruiters, IT workers, and government officials, The Wall Street Journal reported in June.

And hackers with ties to North Korea stole $630 million in crypto last year, their biggest haul ever, Reuters reported in February, citing a confidential UN report.

Read the original article on Business Insider