A man accused of helping North Korea evade US sanctions using crypto once said he wanted to help create a 'paradise society'

  • A Spanish man faces prison in the US for allegedly helping North Korea evade US sanctions with crypto.

  • Alejandro Cao de Benós has denied the allegations, saying his role was "limited."

  • He once told Spanish media that he wanted to help create a "paradise society" in North Korea.

A Spanish man who faces 20 years in prison after being accused of teaching North Korea how to use cryptocurrencies to evade US sanctions once said he wanted to create a "paradise society" in the country.

Alejandro Cao de Benós was arrested at a Madrid train station by Spanish authorities last week after Interpol alerted them to his possible presence in the country, Spain's National Police said in a statement.

The 48-year-old is accused of "conspiring" with Virgil Griffith, a US citizen and cryptocurrency expert, to "illegally provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services" to North Korea, in breach of US sanctions, according to court records.

Cao de Benós has denied the allegations, but has a long track record of working with the country.

In a 2015 Spanish documentary called "On Hostile Ground" he told filmmakers that "we do propaganda to raise the awareness of the citizens to create, you could say, a paradise society where you can really live happily."

That trip was held as part of Cao de Benós' activities as president and founder of the Korean Friendship Association, according to his website.

In that role, Cao de Benós reportedly held conferences around the world to show the reality of North Korea, and promote the country's culture and history.

But according to US law enforcement, his involvement went much further.

According to the US indictment, Cao de Benós recruited Griffith to "provide services" to North Korea and arranged his trip to the country's capital in April 2019 for Pyongyang's Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.

The indictment said Cao de Benós presented himself in an email to Griffith as "in charge of coordinating the blockchain conference in the Pyongyang side" and directed him to North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York for "first approval" of his visa.

Griffith went on to host the conference, in which he provided advice and instructions on how North Korea "could use blockchain and cryptocurrencies to evade US sanctions," per the indictment.

He was sentenced to 63 months in jail and fined $100,000 in 2022 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to violate the Trump-era International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The Office of Public Affairs said in a press release at the time that Griffith knew North Korea "could use these services to evade and avoid U.S. sanctions, and to fund its nuclear weapons program and other illicit activities."

US authorities issued an arrest warrant for Cao de Benós in 2022 on the same grounds, according to an FBI wanted list.

The FBI accused Cao de Benós of taking steps to conceal his activities and his "expert's role in the conspiracy" from the US.

But in an interview with Spanish news program Cuatro al Día on Monday, Cao de Benós said he was not involved in "recruiting" Griffith and that his role was "limited" to passing on his data to North Korea to "authorize his entry."

In comments sent to BI, Cao de Benós said the "only possible explanation" for what was happening to him was political pressure and persecution "to stop my friendship activities between Korea and the rest of the world."

He said he'd brought dozens of the world's leading media organizations to North Korea, and created the world's largest friendship association. "That makes me your target," he said.

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