Spanish authorities detain alleged crypto fugitive

Spanish authorities have reportedly apprehended a man accused of colluding with a convicted American cryptocurrency researcher to assist North Korea in bypassing U.S. sanctions.

Pro-Pyongyang group founder arrested

The founder of a pro-Pyongyang group, Alejandro Cao de Benos, was arrested at Madrid’s Atocha train station upon arriving from Barcelona.

The Spanish police reported the apprehension. Cao de Benos is accused of conspiring with a convicted American cryptocurrency researcher, Virgil Griffith, to help North Korea evade U.S. sanctions using cryptocurrency. 

In 2022, Griffith was sentenced to five years and three months in prison by a U.S. court for his involvement in the same conspiracy.

Spanish national police revealed they discovered Cao de Benos in Barcelona under a false identity, intending to board a train to Madrid.

Cao de Benos, denying the accusations, was arrested on Nov. 30 at Atocha station in Barcelona for using a false identity while intending to travel to Madrid. He appeared before a High Court judge on Friday and was released pending extradition.

On Friday, via a post on social media platform X, Cao de Benos refuted the U.S. allegations, labeling them as “false”. 

The legal representatives of Cao de Benos, who may face a 20-year prison term if found guilty, were not immediately identifiable.

The North Korean crypto conspiracy involved actions like money laundering, financing nuclear programs, and evading sanctions. Allegations suggest that North Korean hackers have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency to support the regime’s nuclear weapons programs.

North Korea and illicit crypto transactions

As international sanctions increased, North Korea resorted to more sophisticated methods for laundering its pilfered cryptocurrency.

On Feb. 21, Christopher Emms, a 31-year-old British citizen, was apprehended in Moscow following a “red notice” from Interpol. He had long been on the FBI’s wanted list due to his alleged involvement in illicitly providing cryptocurrency services to North Korea. 

Emms was accused of assisting the North Korean government in circumventing U.S. sanctions through cryptocurrency. The news initially sparked widespread rumors, until his detention in Moscow was later confirmed. 

This case is part of a global initiative to combat North Korean crypto hackers and their purported use of cryptocurrency to fund nuclear weapons programs and evade sanctions. Emms’s arrest underscores persistent challenges and concerns regarding the illicit use of cryptocurrency, especially in connection with state actors such as North Korea.

In 2022, the primary source of foreign currency income for the country became cryptocurrency theft. North Korean hackers orchestrated some of the largest cryptocurrency heists in history, amassing $1.65 billion that year. 

They targeted crypto exchanges, exploiting vulnerabilities in the ecosystem through phishing, supply chain attacks, and infrastructure hacks. Responsible for over 20% of all stolen crypto in the year, these hackers stole hundreds of millions to fund the regime’s nuclear weapons programs. 

The U.S. and its allies have collaborated to uncover and dismantle North Korean cryptocurrency hacking groups, impose sanctions on rogue cryptocurrency exchanges, and seize pilfered funds. The recent crackdown on crypto services accused of laundering money for North Korean leaders underscores the ongoing challenges and concerns regarding the illicit use of cryptocurrency and its potential links to state actors like North Korea.


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