North Korea, cryptocurrencies and money laundering: it sounds like a Hollywood movie. In the United States, Virgil Griffith, a former Ethereum developer, was sentenced to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine, followed by three years of supervised parole. The 39-year-old initially faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The reason for this was a blockchain-themed conference in North Korea.
Offense: Blockchain conference in North Korea
It is very likely that Virgil Griffith knew in advance that a blockchain technology conference in the North Korean capital would get him in trouble. Despite this, the talented developer traveled from Singapore to Pyongyang in 2019 without permission from the US State Department. Here the conference should be named Blockchain and peace occur. He wanted to participate as a keynote speaker and give a lecture on blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The conference was not open to the ordinary population of the totalitarian state. On the contrary, the hundred visitors were made up of supporters of the communist regime and government employees. Only Kim Jong-Un himself was not there.
The criminal complaint at the time shows that the government pre-approved the presentation topics. One of the conference organizers previously asked the Ethereum developer to “highlight the potential suitability of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology for money laundering and sanctions evasion.”
According to the US Department of Justice, Griffth was available for technical questions about crypto technologies. He also advised the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on how to become independent from the global banking system and how to launder money.
The most important property of blockchains is that they are open. And the DPRK cannot be excluded, no matter what the US or the UN say.
Griffith, according to prosecutors, during the presentation
Griffith reportedly even attempted to set up a crypto exchange between North Korea and South Korea.
Advice on how to circumvent international sanctions is of course a criminal offense for US authorities. An arrest warrant has been issued and the developer initially faced 20 years in prison.
Negotiation for Griffith
Griffith was arrested at Los Angeles airport in 2019. In court, he explained that he had only held an innocuous keynote on open source technologies in North Korea. The information was in no way explosive and could also have been taken from the Internet.
The talented developer whose, among other things, the software tool WikiScanner was able to pay his $1 million bond through his crypto assets. At the end of December 2019, he was free again. However, he had to promise not to leave his parents’ house. He was also no longer allowed to log into his wallets.
Apparently, however, his mother used one of his many wallets in July 2021. Authorities were immediately alerted and Griffith has been sitting behind Swedish curtains ever since. There he awaits his next trial.
Last Tuesday, Judge Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York upheld the final sentence: 63 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.
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