North Korea, cryptocurrencies and money laundering: it sounds like a Hollywood movie. In the US, 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 originally faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The reason for this was a lecture in North Korea on the subject of blockchain.
Offense: Blockchain Lecture in North Korea
It is very likely that Virgil Griffith knew in advance that a lecture on blockchain technology in the North Korean capital would get him into 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 take part 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. Rather, the approximately 100 visitors were made up of supporters of the communist regime and government employees. Only Kim Jong-Un himself was not there.
The criminal complaint from the time shows that the government approved the topics of the presentation in advance. One of the organizers of the conference previously told 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 is said to have been 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 launder money.
The most important property of blockchains is that they are open. And the DPRK cannot be ruled out, no matter what the US or the UN says.
Griffith, according to prosecutors, during the presentation
Allegedly, Griffith 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 the US authorities. An arrest warrant was 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 a harmless keynote on open source technologies in North Korea. The information was in no way explosive and could also have been pulled from the Internet.
The talented developer from which, among other things, the software tool WikiScanner was able to pay his $1 million bail through his crypto assets. At the end of December 2019 he was free again. However, he had to commit himself not to leave his parents’ house. He was also no longer allowed to log into his wallets.
Allegedly, however, his mother used one of his numerous wallets in July 2021. The authorities were immediately alerted and Griffith has been sitting behind Swedish curtains ever since. There he awaited 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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