Prison male inmate

UK gov’t accused of abandoning national detained in Saudi over North Korea digital currency conference links

A British member of parliament has criticized the country’s Foreign Office for handling the detention of a U.K. citizen in Saudi Arabia. The detainee is alleged to have conspired to aid North Korea to evade sanctions through digital currencies and blockchain, working with Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith.

MP Crispin Blunt accused the Foreign Office of washing its hands off the case of Christopher Emms, and refusing to help him return to his country.

Emms was arrested in Riyadh in February following the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DoJ) issuance of an Interpol Red Notice for him for allegedly breaching the U.S. government’s sanctions on North Korea. Of note is that the DoJ didn’t accuse Emms of breaching international sanctions on North Korea, just its domestic sanctions, despite him not being an American.

Emms had been a speaker at an event held in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2018 on digital assets and blockchain. The most notable attendee of this event was Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith, a U.S. citizen. As CoinGeek reported, three years after his 2019 arrest, Griffith pleaded guilty to his charges, paid $100,000 in fines, and was sentenced to 63 months behind bars.

The third person that the DoJ went after is Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish national who openly supports the North Korean regime but still remains at large.

After his arrest and questioning, Emms was released on bail and has spent the last five months in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, waiting for the DoJ to provide documentation to Saudi authorities for his extradition to the United States.

However, according to MP Blunt, Emms should be taken back home to the U.K., and the DoJ can then go through the British justice system if it wants to extradite him. The MP claimed that he has been fighting for months to bring back Emms, but the government has been no help.

“It cannot be said that I haven’t spent every effort with her junior ministers to try and get them to act in this area, and so far it’s not worked,” the legislator said.

“I’m now asking publicly, which is really all I’m left with now, to ask our Foreign Office and the overseeing ministers to act to get my constituent home, which is where he should be,” he added.

The MP is counting on the ongoing battle to replace former Prime Minister Boris Johnson to boost his bid to bring back his constituent.

I’m being accused falsely by the American gov’t, Emms says

Emms has previously distanced himself from claims that he aided Kim Jong-un’s government in evading sanctions through digital assets and blockchain technology. In an interview with Sky News, he revealed that he was invited to give his thoughts on blockchain at the event without any expectation of offering expertise on sanction evasion. Being a blockchain specialist and running a blockchain consultancy at the time, he was used to speaking at events every week.

Before leaving for Pyongyang, he combed through British foreign policies and determined that he wasn’t breaking any laws by visiting North Korea.

In North Korea, the speakers were told to steer clear of any controversial topics.

“Essentially, we were given materials that we were told were pre-approved by the North Korean government, which were basically pieces of paper that had been copied and pasted from Google that had very basic information on blockchain,” he told the outlet earlier this year.

The FBI has a different narrative. Its investigators say that Emms opened his presentation by criticizing the U.S. government’s stranglehold of the global monetary system, which he termed as “very, very unfair.” He then allegedly went on to talk about how digital assets “made it possible to transfer money across any country in the world regardless of… sanctions.”

Emms maintains that he is innocent, but even if he wasn’t, he believes he has the right to “come back home and deal with this through the British court system, which I don’t think is a huge thing to ask, even of the Americans.”

Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups from BitMEX to BinanceBitcoin.comBlockstreamShapeShiftCoinbaseRipple
EthereumFTX and Tether—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

New to blockchain? Check out CoinGeek’s Blockchain for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about blockchain technology.