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U.S. authorities arrest Ethereum research scientist Virgil Griffith for allegedly assisting North Korea in evading sanctions

Steven Zheng

The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the FBI announced today that it has arrested and charged Virgil Griffith for violating the U.S. sanctions laws and traveling to North Korea to "deliver a presentation and technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions."

“As alleged, Virgil Griffith provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. "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."

According to Griffith's LinkedIn profile, he is a research scientist for the Ethereum Foundation.  

According to the U.S. authorities, in April 2019, Griffith traveled to North Korea to attend and present at the "Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference," despite the U.S. Department of State denying his permission to travel to the country. U.S. authorities alleged that at the conference, Griffith and other attendees "discussed how the DPRK [North Korea] could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions."

After the conference, Griffith "began formulating plans to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between the DPRK and South Korea, despite knowing that assisting with such an exchange would violate sanctions against the DPRK."

Griffith has been charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.