The Korea Herald


Seoul to look into former mayor’s ties to US cryptocurrency expert's attempts to help N. Korea evade sanctions

By Shim Woo-hyun

Published : Oct. 12, 2022 - 16:31

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Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks during a parliamentary inspection of the metropolitan government at Seoul City Hall, Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap) Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks during a parliamentary inspection of the metropolitan government at Seoul City Hall, Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said the Seoul city government will look into whether late former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was involved in a US cryptocurrency expert’s attempts to help North Korea evade US sanctions via cryptocurrency, during a parliamentary inspection of the city government at Seoul City Hall, Seoul, Wednesday.

Oh provided the answer to Rep. Cho Eun-hee of the ruling People Power Party, who asked if the former mayor was related to the case involving cryptocurrency expert Virgil Griffith.

Earlier this year, Griffith was sentenced to more than five years in prison for helping North Korea evade US sanctions through cryptocurrency. Griffith pleaded guilty to conspiracy, admitting he presented at a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang in 2019 although the US government denied his request to travel to North Korea.

The former Seoul mayor's possible involvement in the Griffith case was recently disclosed after Rep. Kim Eui-kyum of the main opposition party revealed that there were emails exchanged in 2018 between Griffith and his business partner based in Seoul, Erica Kang, the founder of blockchain community-building team KryptoSeoul.

The emails purportedly mentioned that Park and Lee Jae-myung, a former mayor of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, as well as the opposition Democratic Party of Korea's current chairman, had showed interest in building a cryptocurrency network with North Korea.

While raising suspicions, Cho also spoke of a connection between the Seoul city government and KryptoSeoul, which was an official business partner of the city government in 2019. According to Cho, KryptoSeoul received 18 million won ($12,600) for helping the city government hold a three-day event.

"If the allegations were true, it is an attempt to help North Korea, which has been subject to United Nations sanctions and a violation of international law,” Cho said. She added that the city government needs to confirm what kind of discussions officials, particularly those who dealt with blockchain affairs, held with KryptoSeoul. “If issues were found, (the city government) will have to request law enforcement agencies to embark on investigations."

About Park and the city government’s alleged involvement in the case, Oh answered that he became aware of it after media reports were released recently. “At the moment, I have not confirmed how far the Seoul city government was involved during the former mayor's term,” Oh said. However, Oh noted that he was told that the Seoul city government had not made any contact with North Korea.

Oh also answered that the city government will seek to investigate the case if it finds any suspicious circumstances.

Meanwhile, Rep. Cho also asked the city government to check the details of its inter-Korean cooperation fund, which suddenly increased to 24.2 billion won the year former President Moon Jae-in took the presidential office. According to Cho, the budget increased by around 15 times in a five-year period starting in 2017, from 1.5 billion won during the earlier five-year period.

Regarding Cho’s request, Oh answered that he considered the fund to have been "ineffective." The Seoul mayor added the city would take proper measures after an ongoing internal audit of the budget.