Home News American Arrested for Teaching North Korea Cryptocurrency & Blockchain to Evade Sanctions

American Arrested for Teaching North Korea Cryptocurrency & Blockchain to Evade Sanctions

TL;DR: An American living in Singapore, Virgil Griffith, was arrested yesterday in Los Angeles and charged by the Department of Justice with providing “highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions” by way of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, according to U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. Should Griffith be convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

American Arrested for Teaching North Korea Cryptocurrency & Blockchain

The unsealed, 8-page complaint alleges Griffith, 36, with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) with the express purpose of giving “technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions,” the Manhattan US Attorney press released explained. “In allegedly doing so, Griffith jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime,” US Attorney Berman stressed.

According to the Department of Justice, Griffith was apparently warned “not to go,” but instead made the trip anyway and taught a class of some kind. That very act of education, no matter how benign, seems to run afoul of the IEEPA and a presidential Executive Order, 13466, effectively prohibiting Americans “from exporting any goods, services, or technology” to North Korea without express permission. Earlier this year, Griffith traveled to the Hermit Kingdom sans license to attend the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.

There, he allegedly discussed “how the [North Korea] could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions.” This reportedly included speaking specifically to officials there about smart contracts as well as “formulating plans to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between [North Korea] and South Korea,” US officials claim.

North Korea
Virgil Griffith

Griffith “also encouraged other U.S. citizens to travel to North Korea, including to attend the same” type of crypto-related conference, and “announced his intention to renounce his U.S. citizenship and began researching how to purchase citizenship from other countries.” Griffith is well known within the Ethereum community and part of the Ethereum Foundation.

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