Alejandro Cao de Benos, the founder of a pro-Pyongyang group, was recently arrested at Madrid’s Atocha train station upon arriving from Barcelona. He is accused of conspiring with Virgil Griffith, a convicted American cryptocurrency researcher, to help North Korea evade U.S. sanctions using cryptocurrency.
Cao de Benos was discovered in Barcelona under a false identity and had intended to board a train to Madrid. He appeared before a High Court judge on Friday and was released pending extradition. He denied the accusations and through a post on social media platform X labeled the U.S. allegations as “false”.
The North Korean crypto conspiracy involved money laundering, financing nuclear programs and evading sanctions. It is estimated that North Korean hackers have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency to support the regime’s nuclear weapons programs.
Christopher Emms, a 31-year-old British citizen, was apprehended in Moscow in February 2021 following a “red notice” from Interpol and had long been on the FBI’s wanted list for allegedly providing cryptocurrency services to North Korea.
This case is part of an international initiative to combat North Korean crypto hackers and their use of cryptocurrency to fund nuclear weapons programs and evade sanctions. It is believed that in 2022, North Korean hackers orchestrated some of the largest cryptocurrency heists in history, amassing $1.65 billion.
The U.S. and its allies are working together to uncover and dismantle North Korean cryptocurrency hacking groups, impose sanctions on rogue cryptocurrency exchanges, and seize pilfered funds. This crackdown on crypto services accused of laundering money for North Korean leaders underlines the ongoing challenges and concerns regarding the illicit use of cryptocurrency and its potential ties to state actors like North Korea.