Cryptocurrency expert arrested for helping North Korea “evade sanctions”
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin signs petition to free Virgil Griffith after he is held over Pyongyang conference
Cryptocurrency expert Virgil Griffith has been arrested for teaching North Korea how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions.
The Ethereum Foundation employee is accused of travelling to North Korea in April to give a presentation at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, even though the US Department of State had denied the 36-year-old American permission to travel there.
In a statement, US assistant attorney general John Demers said: “Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly travelled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions. By this complaint, we begin the process of seeking justice for such conduct.”
Griffith allegedly discussed how blockchain and cryptocurrency technology could be used by North Korea to launder money and evade sanctions.
After the conference, he began planning how to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between North and South Korea.
In doing so, he “jeopardised the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime,” Demers said.
Griffith, who lives in Singapore, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Thanksgiving Day. He has been charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which carries a maximum 20 years in prison.
The American programmer has worked for the Ethereum Foundation since October 2016. After the arrest, the foundation released a statement distancing itself from his actions: “We can confirm that the foundation was not represented in any capacity at the events outlined in the Justice Department’s filing and that the foundation neither approved nor supported any such travel, which was a personal matter.”
However, Ethereum’s co-founder Vitalik Buterin has signed a petition to free Griffith.
“I refuse to take the convenient path of throwing Virgil under the bus, because I firmly believe that that would be wrong. I’m signing,” he said on Twitter.
He believes Griffith’s presentation was based on publicly available data about open-source software. “There was no weird hackery or advanced tutoring.”
“I hope USA shows strength rather than weakness and focuses on genuine and harmful corruption that it and all countries struggle with rather than going after programmers delivering speeches parroting public information,” he said.
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