Spain arrests a man wanted by US over North Korea crypto conspiracy

MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish police said on Friday they detained a Spaniard wanted by the United States for allegedly conspiring with a convicted American cryptocurrency researcher to help North Korea evade U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. Department of Justice accused last year Alejandro Cao de Benos, who founded a pro-Pyongyang affinity organisation, of recruiting researcher Virgil Griffith to illegally provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to North Korea.

Griffith was sentenced by a U.S. court to five years and three months in prison in 2022 for conspiring to help North Korea evade U.S. sanctions using cryptocurrency.

In a post on Friday afternoon on social media platform X, Cao de Benos described the U.S. allegations against him as “false”.

Spanish national police said in a statement they found out Cao de Benos was in Barcelona under a false identity and planned to catch a train to Madrid.

He was arrested on Thursday at the capital’s Atocha train station when he arrived.

On Friday, he appeared before a High Court judge who released him without conditions pending the extradition process, a judicial source said.

The source added that the United States has to formalise the request and submit documentation.

“There is no extradition. The US accusation, besides being false, does not exist in Spain,” Caos de Benos wrote on X.

Lawyers for Cao de Benos, who could face 20 years in prison if convicted, could not immediately be identified.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Aislinn Laing and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)