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Buterin defends developer accused of aiding North Korea

Elliot Hill

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has voiced his support for his friend and fellow developer Virgil Griffith, who stands accused of breaking the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

Griffith, 36, travelled to North Korea to deliver a conference speech entitled “Blockchain and Peace” at the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference.

As a result, Griffith is currently in custody in the US for allegedly assisting North Korea to evade international sanctions.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York released a statement last Friday claiming that Griffith provided “highly technical” information to North Korea, despite knowing it could be used to evade sanctions.

The statement read:

“Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly traveled 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.”

Officials also state that Griffith formulated plans to facilitate cryptocurrency exchange with North Korea and encouraged other American citizens to move to the country.

If convicted, Griffith could face a maximum jail term of up to 20 years. The case was brought against Griffith after a lengthy investigation by the FBI and Department of Justice’s National Security Division.

However, Buterin has publicly come out in support of Griffith, claiming he wasn’t aiding North Korea and was simply practicing “geopolitical open-mindedness”.

Buterin remarked:

“Geopolitical open-mindedness is a *virtue*. It’s *admirable* to go to a group of people that one has been trained since childhood to believe is a Maximum Evil Enemy, and hear out what they have to say. The world would be better if more people on all sides did that.”

Buterin later tweeted that he has signed a petition to free Griffith, saying he firmly believes his imprisonment to be wrong:


Polarising opinions

Not everyone in the cryptocurrency space agrees with the calls to free Griffith, with some claiming he was directly contributing to North Korea’s knowledge of sanction-evading technology.

Prominent cryptocurrency journalist Laura Shin took to Twitter to share her frustrations, where she called North Korea “a prison masquerading as a country” and claimed that foreigners can’t directly help North Korean citizens in the public sphere.


 

In a scathing attack on Griffith, Shin said:

“…for someone who seemed to be fascinated by NK, he seemed to have almost no understanding of it. Either that, or to have a very cavalier attitude about contributing to the suffering of 25 million people.”

Instead, Shin claimed that Kim Jong-un’s regime “craves” interactions with foreign nationals because it legitimises its position. In contrast, the regime doesn’t let ordinary citizens have access to foreign visitors.

Shin said it wasn’t logically consistent with the founding tenets of blockchain to want to free someone accused of assisting a brutal dictator.


Griffith’s trial date is yet to be announced.

 

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