Briton who aided North Korea evade US sanctions via crypto arrested in Moscow

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Key takeaways:

  • Christopher Emms has been listed as a wanted person internationally by the FBI for several years due to his involvement in supplying cryptocurrency and blockchain services to North Korea without authorization.
  • Christopher Emms was freed by Saudi officials because there was no proof to convict him.

According to some Russian reports, Christopher Emms was detained in Moscow on February 21 after receiving a “red notice” from Interpol. The British national, age 31, was held in the hostel where he was residing.

Emms is claimed to have instructed North Korea on using blockchain and cryptocurrencies to launder money and evade sanctions in April 2022 alongside Spanish national Alejandro Cao De Benos. The two planned and arranged the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference in 2019.

Former Ethereum engineer Virgil Griffith is the third member of the plot. The Federal Bureau of Investigation detained him in November 2019; he pleaded guilty and was given a 63-month jail term. Emms faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for one count of plotting to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The founder of Due Process International, a nongovernmental group that supports the defense of human rights in the face of external enforcement bodies, Radha Stirling, earlier asserted that Emms lacked solid evidence:

“Precisely because he did nothing wrong; he provided no information to North Korea that doesn’t already appear on the first page of Google.”

After an eight-month travel restriction, Saudi Arabia released Emms in September 2022 after rejecting the American request for extradition due to a lack of legal justification. He instantly fled the nation for Russia. The local authorities supported their American peers despite their nation being a target of the DoJ’s efforts to impose financial sanctions on the cryptocurrency sector.

Emms recruited Griffith, a former Ethereum developer, and American crypto expert, to assist with the conference. The two shared their knowledge of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency usage with participants from the North Korean administration and representatives at the event.

Emms is also tasked with assisting the DPRK in developing cryptocurrency deals that would avoid American sanctions and suggesting “smart contracts” to aid the nation in achieving the same goal.

The plan was stopped when Griffith was detained and charged by the FBI in 2019. In 2022, after entering a guilty plea to the allegations, he was given a prison term of at least 63 months.

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