The National Police of Spain announced the capture of Alejandro Cao de Benós, a Spanish fugitive sought by the FBI for his involvement in providing blockchain services to North Korea. The arrest, made upon his arrival in Madrid from Catalonia, sheds light on an intricate network facilitating North Korea’s circumvention of international sanctions through cryptocurrency technology.
Cao de Benós, founder of the Korean Friendship Association, had been allegedly evading authorities and utilizing potential counterfeit documentation to avoid capture. The Spanish police detained him following his train journey from Barcelona, as per a press release from the Spanish National Police on December 1st, 2023.
His role in organizing the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference” alongside co-conspirator Christopher Emms in 2018 came under scrutiny by the FBI. This event served as a platform to educate North Korean officials on utilizing blockchain and cryptocurrency for illicit activities, including money laundering and evading sanctions, as claimed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Accomplice Virgil Griffith, a former Ethereum developer, was previously arrested and pleaded guilty to violating the International Economic Powers Act by aiding North Korea in evading sanctions. Griffith received a 63-month prison sentence and a fine of $100,000 as part of his plea agreement in April 2022.
While Cao de Benós and Emms were indicted in 2022 on charges of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions, Emms remains at large, residing in the United Arab Emirates. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams emphasized the critical nature of sanctions against North Korea, stressing the enforcement efforts to protect American security interests.
The arrest of Cao de Benós represents a significant breakthrough in dismantling the complex network facilitating North Korea’s use of cryptocurrency to evade international sanctions, with ongoing efforts to bring all involved parties to justice.