A British national wanted with a red notice from Interpol for consulting North Korea on cryptocurrencies has been detained in Moscow. U.S. authorities allege that the man helped the regime in Pyongyang to bypass sanctions using digital assets.
U.K. Citizen Sought by U.S. for Violating North Korea Sanctions Apprehended in a Moscow Hostel
The Russian Bureau of Interpol has arrested a British man wanted by Interpol at the request of the United States, the Russian Telegram channel Baza revealed. Authorities in the U.S. claim he was assisting North Koreans in efforts to circumvent sanctions using crypto.
The 31-year-old Christopher Emms, who is accused of committing fraud against the U.S. government, was detained in the hostel where he was staying. The International Criminal Police Organization issued a ‘red notice’ arrest warrant for him in the beginning of February. Its announcement details:
Christopher Douglas Emms is wanted for allegedly conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
More specifically, he was conspiring to violate United States sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) by working with an American citizen to illegally provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to the DPRK.
In early 2018, Emms, who is a crypto businessman, planned and organized the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference,” the agency explained. He also recruited a cryptocurrency expert from the United States and arranged his travel to the country in April of 2019 for the event.
Both answered questions about blockchain and crypto technologies from the North Korean audience, including persons working for the government in Pyongyang. They also proposed plans for creating smart contracts for the DPRK and mapped out crypto transactions designed to avoid U.S. sanctions.
Despite Emms taking steps to conceal their activity, the American crypto expert was arrested in November 2019, which disrupted the scheme. The Brit and his co-conspirator Alejandro Cao de Benós, a Spanish political activist with close ties to North Korea, never obtained permission from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to provide services to the DPRK, as required by U.S. law.
A federal arrest warrant was issued for Christopher Emms in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, on Jan. 27, 2022, after the British citizen was charged with conspiracy to violate the IEEPA.
Interpol also said that Emms is known to have resided in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and had been in Saudi Arabia in or about March, 2022. He also had various business interests in multiple jurisdictions, including UAE, Malta, Gibraltar, and throughout Europe. Baza noted that apparently he decided to wait out the turbulent times in Russia where he is now under arrest.
North Korea is believed to have stolen a record amount of cryptocurrency last year, according to a draft U.N. report. An estimate quoted by the authors, independent sanctions monitors, suggests that the total value of the virtual assets obtained by hackers linked to the DPRK in 2022 is greater than in any previous year and exceeds $1 billion.
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