The Unsettling Case of Alejandro Cao de Benos: Aiding Ethereum Developer to Violate U.S. Sanctions

The Unsettling Case of Alejandro Cao de Benos: Aiding Ethereum Developer to Violate U.S. Sanctions

Spanish police have recently apprehended Alejandro Cao de Benos, a key figure in helping Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith breach U.S. sanctions and travel to North Korea. Acting on intelligence, local authorities in Barcelona discovered that Cao de Benos was hiding under a false identity and planning to journey to Madrid by train. On November 30th, the Spanish police arrested him at a train station in Madrid. Although Cao de Benos has been released without conditions after appearing before a High Court judge on December 1st, there is a pending extradition process. However, the United States still needs to formalize its request for extradition and provide adequate documentation. In response to the accusations, Cao de Benos adamantly asserted that he would not be extradited, emphasizing there is no extradition agreement with the U.S. He expressed gratitude for the support received and affirmed the falseness of the U.S. allegations, stating, “The US accusation, in addition to being false, does not exist in Spain.”

Cao de Benos drew attention to a specific order issued during the tenure of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Although the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officially charged both Cao de Benos and another individual in April 2022 after Trump’s presidency had concluded, an FBI poster indicates that charges were already underway as early as January. Virgil Griffith, the Ethereum developer, had ventured to North Korea in April 2019 to participate in a cryptocurrency and blockchain conference. Subsequently, he was arrested in November of the same year. Apart from violating sanctions, U.S. authorities accused Griffith of providing information that could assist North Korea in evading sanctions and engaging in money laundering. Griffith received a conviction in 2021 and was subsequently sentenced in 2022, presently serving a prison sentence.

According to the DOJ, Cao de Benos, through his organization called the Korean Friendship Association, collaborated with U.S. businessman Christopher Emms to orchestrate the blockchain conference that Griffith attended. Allegedly, Cao de Benos and Emms recruited Griffith and organized his travel arrangements to North Korea. It is also alleged that Cao de Benos informed Griffith that North Korea would not stamp his passport, thus concealing the details of Griffith’s visit. Moreover, after the conclusion of the conference, Cao de Benos and Emms purportedly worked together with Griffith on various blockchain initiatives related to North Korea.

Cao de Benos and Emms are facing charges of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. Sanctions, with a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. However, it is important to note that both individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The extradition process presents another legal hurdle, and it remains to be seen how it will unfold once the U.S. formally makes its extradition request and provides the necessary documentation.

The arrest of Alejandro Cao de Benos in Spain sheds light on a complex case involving the violation of U.S. sanctions and the facilitation of international travel to North Korea. As the legal proceedings continue, it will be crucial to closely monitor the developments in this high-profile case. The outcome of the extradition process and the resolution of the charges against Cao de Benos and Emms will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the enforcement of international sanctions and the prosecution of individuals involved in illicit activities.


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