Former Ethereum Dev. Virgil Griffith Pleads Guilty of Violating North Korea Sanction

Virgil Griffith, a former senior researcher at the Ethereum Foundation, has pleaded guilty to charges of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by attending a North Korean blockchain conference in 2019.

After the conference, Griffith was arrested by U.S. authorities in November 2019 on the grounds that he allegedly educated the North Koreans about how to use blockchain technology to launder money.

In an appearance at a New York courthouse today, Griffith, who pleaded not guilty in an earlier hearing,  pleaded guilty. He is scheduled to be sentenced on January 8, 2022 and could face a sentence anywhere between 63 and 78 months in prison.

His Charges

In the filings, prosecutors noted that Griffith violated U.S. laws by providing valuable information at a conference that could have been instrumental in helping the sanctioned country launder money.

Prior to his mission in North Korea, prosecutors said Griffith had received warnings from officials from the United States Treasury Department and the State Department about the implications of visiting North Korea.

Without heeding the warnings, Griffith sourced a travel visa to North Korea and entered the country via China, they added.

The accused is alleged to have revealed to investigators that the use of Bitcoin (BTC) would make North Korea virtually independent from the global banking system.

Griffith, who has frequently spoken about blockchain on different occasions, told an FBI agent that the topics he presented at the conference were approved ahead of the conference by the North Korean government.

At the time, Vitalik Buterin, a co-founder of Ethereum, took to Twitter to note that Griffith had embarked on his journey to North Korea without the help of the foundation. Buterin also noted that Griffith chose to proceed with the trip to North Korea despite several counsels opposing the move.

Griffith’s Defense

In an earlier court hearing, his lawyers dismissed the claim, saying Griffith was not guilty of any offense since he did not provide any service to the country.

More so, the information he presented at the conference, which saw about 100 people in attendance,  were the basics of the tech, which they argued could be sourced by anyone on the internet, Griffith’s lawyer said.

North Korea’s Sanctions

North Korea is still under trade, finance, and weapons sales sanctions by the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council. These sanctions are established in a bid to prevent the Asian nation from continuing with its nuclear weapons program.

Earlier last year, the United Nations warned global cryptocurrency experts against attending the North Korean cryptocurrency conference held between February 21 and 22, 2020. The warning came a few months after North Korea was accused of stealing over $2 billion from banks and global cryptocurrency exchanges.