Research scientist given jail time for giving blockchain presentation in North Korea

Research scientist given jail time for giving blockchain presentation in North Korea

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A former Ethereum Foundation research scientist has been sentenced to more than five years in jail for providing information to North Korea on how to evade sanctions.

Virgil Griffith, a U.S. citizen but previously a resident of Singapore, was arrested in December 2019 after speaking at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference earlier the same year. The Department of Justice accused Griffith of having discussed how North Korea could evade sanctions imposed by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

It was alleged that Griffith began formulating plans to provide services to North Korea as early as 2018 and had been warned not to travel to North Korea after being denied permission to do so by the U.S. Department of State. He also attempted to hide that he had traveled to the country by asking that his travel visa be issued on a separate piece of paper and not in his passport.

At the conference, Griffith gave advice on how North Korea could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions. His presentation included how the country could benefit by using smart contracts, including in nuclear weapons negotiations and answered specific questions from individuals who worked for the North Korean government.

It was further claimed that Griffith pursued plans to facilitate an exchange of cryptocurrency between North Korea and South Korea, despite knowing that assisting with such an exchange would breach sanctions.

CoinDesk reported today that the defense for Griffith asked for leniency, citing harsh conditions at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, where Griffith has been held. U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York was not moved by the pleas.

“The fact of the matter is Virgil Griffith… hoped to come home to Singapore or elsewhere as a crypto hero,” Castel said. “To be admired and praised for standing up to government sanctions, for his fearlessness and nobility.”

The full sentence was 63 months in prison, a $100,000 fine and three years supervised release.

“There is no question North Korea poses a national security threat to our nation and the regime has shown time and again it will stop at nothing to ignore our laws for its own benefit,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “Mr. Griffith admitted in court he took actions to evade sanctions, which are in place to prevent the DPRK from building a nuclear weapon. Justice has been served with the sentence handed down today.”

Photo: fljckr/Flickr

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