Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith pleads guilty in DPRK trip case

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Virgil Griffith pleaded guilty to violating US laws by advising North Korean authorities on the use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies to circumvent sanctions.

indicated on the website of the US Department of Justice, Virgil Griffith admitted before the judge of the District Court of the Southern District of New York, Kevin Castel, that he violated the Economic Emergency Measures Act (IEEPA). According to US Attorney Audrey Strauss, Griffith “agreed to help one of the most dangerous foreign adversaries of the United States – North Korea.”

Griffith “colluded with others to provide cryptocurrency services to the North Korean government and helped it evade US economic sanctions.” To do this, Griffith went to the DPRK, endangering the national security of the United States, Strauss added.

According to IEEPA and US Presidential Executive Order No. 13466, US citizens are prohibited from exporting any goods, services or technology to the DPRK without permission from the US Treasury Department and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Prosecutors say Griffith was planning to provide cryptocurrency services to individuals in North Korea back in 2018. Later, he began to consult for them on issues related to the development of the necessary infrastructure and cryptocurrency mining. The developer knew that the DPRK could use the information received to evade US sanctions, finance the development of nuclear weapons, money laundering and other illegal activities.

Despite the fact that the US State Department banned Griffith from traveling to the DPRK, the developer arrived in the country and gave a presentation on the blockchain in Pyongyang, realizing that he was acting in violation of American law. At the conference, Griffith and his accomplices provided the North Koreans with detailed instructions on how blockchain and smart contracts can be used in the DPRK’s interests, the US prosecutor’s office said. The developer faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Judge Castel is due to hand down his sentence to Griffith on January 18, 2022.

Earlier, Griffith denied the accusations, arguing that at the conference he provided only publicly available information about the blockchain, without receiving material rewards for this. In addition, Griffith’s defense argued that he did not enter into any agreements with North Korea to provide consulting services.

Griffith was arrested in November 2019 and later released on $ 1 million bail backed by his relatives’ real estate. However, in July 2021, the developer was arrested again for violating the terms of release. According to the US Attorney’s Office, he tried to access his Coinbase account in order to use the money to flee the country.

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