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British citizen who helped North Korea evade US sanctions via crypto arrested in Moscow

British national Christopher Douglas Emms — wanted by the FBI for allegedly helping the North Korean government evade U.S. sanctions via crypto — was arrested in Moscow by the Russian bureau of Interpol on Feb. 21, according to local media reports.

Emms has been on the FBI’s international wanted list for a number of years for his role in illegally providing cryptocurrency and blockchain services to the Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK) alongside American citizen Virgil Griffith and Spanish national Alejandro Cao de Benós.

Emms won an extradition case against the U.S. in 2022 after being detained in Saudi Arabia for eight months. After Saudi Arabia rejected the U.S. government’s extradition request, Emms left the middle eastern country and moved to Russia, where he was offered residency.

At the time, Emms’ representative Radha Stirling — the chief executive of Due Process International — said he moved to Russia as the country would not extradite him and he’d be “100%” safe” there. The sentiment is not uncommon considering Russia’s own battle with U.S. sanctions and its history of refusing such requests.

Emms has denied all charges. It is currently unclear whether Russia will extradite him to the U.S.

Helping the DPRK

According to the FBI’s most wanted page, Emms and Benós organized and conducted the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference” in the Democratic Republic of North Korea in 2019.

Emms hired Griffith — an American crypto expert and former Ethereum developer — to help with the conference. The two taught North Koreans about blockchain and how to use cryptocurrencies during at the event, which included representatives and members of the North Korean government.

Furthermore, Emms is charged with helping the DPRK map out cryptocurrency transactions that would circumvent U.S. sanctions, as well as proposing “smart contracts” to help the country for the same purpose.

The scheme was disrupted in 2019 when Griffith was arrested and charged by the FBI. He plead guilty to the charges and was sentenced to a minimum of 63 months in prison in 2022.

Meanwhile, Benós remains at large and is considered to be in hiding in Spain.

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