North Korea is developing its own cryptocurrency—at least according to Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish aristocrat and IT consultant who serves as a sort of international liaison for the country’s totalitarian, militaristic government.
Per a report in Vice News on Wednesday, North Korea threw a “first-ever blockchain and cryptocurrency conference in April,” with Cao de Benos saying the country now feels ready to dip its toes into the market with an offering of its own. Cao de Benos, who managed both the conference and works with the Committee for Cultural Relations for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), told Vice News it has not been named yet and will be “more like bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.”
The project is in its initial stages, Cao de Benos told Vice, with North Korea’s United Nations embassy in New York (it lacks an actual U.S. embassy) declining comment:
“We are still in the very early stages in the creation of the token. Now we are in the phase of studying the goods that will give value to it,” said Cao de Benos, adding that there are “no plans to digitize the [North Korean] won for now.”
North Korea’s Embassy to the U.N. in New York would neither confirm nor deny Cao de Benos’s claim. “I am not in a position to give you an answer,” an embassy spokesperson said before hanging up.
Cao de Benos also asserted that “big names” in fields like education, medicine, and finance have signed contracts with the North Korean government during the April conference, Vice News wrote, but that none of them have been announced “due to sanctions and fake news.” If Cao de Benos is not spreading his own fake news, possible partners include firms in Russia and China.
As Vice noted, in 2017 the North Korean government launched a crash course in crypto at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, worrying some experts who have noted its alleged involvement in cyberattacks on crypto exchanges to pad its coffers.
Last year, the Diplomat reported that its interest in the technology is primarily based on “high anonymity, difficulty in tracking funds, and easy cash flow,” all of which makes it ideal for a nation that has been accused of illicit activities ranging from the drug trade and counterfeiting to human trafficking and arms sales. Numerous reports have indicated that North Korea’s state-sponsored hacking operations are quite sophisticated, despite most of the nation’s threadbare at best connection to the global internet. Developing a cryptocurrency is on the easier end of the spectrum.
On the other hand, Venezuela—currently facing heavy U.S. sanctions—tried its own hand at state-sponsored crypto with disastrous results and a resulting U.S. ban by the Trump administration. The much more intense sanctions on North Korea mean that any cryptocurrency it develops would with almost complete certainty be illegal to buy or sell in much of the world.
“Washington’s use of sanctions now is reliant on the dollar’s role in the global financial system–U.S. sanctions have significant secondary effects because non-US banks can’t risk losing access to dollar transactions by doing business with sanctioned persons,” Anne Fixler, a sanctions expert at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Vice. “If transactions can flow easily around the world without touching the dollar, then nations like North Korea are insulated from U.S. sanctions.”
In any case, a few points of advice for North Korea if it does delve into crypto: Definitely sink your entire life savings into it, remember that it only ever goes up in value, and if all else fails, repeat the phrase “This is good for [the North Korean] bitcoin” over and over and over.