Cryptocurrency expert Virgil Griffith pled guilty today to assisting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in evading U.S. sanctions by conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and Executive Order 13466.
Griffith, who worked as a special projects dev and researcher for the Ethereum Foundation, was arrested in November 2019 by the FBI.
Advice on how to evade sanctions and launder money
His arrest happened after he traveled to North Korea to give a presentation on how to use cryptocurrency and blockchain tech (i.e., smart contracts) to launder money and evade sanctions.
The defendant also talked about how North Korea could use cryptocurrency to gain independence from the global banking system.
“Griffith identified several DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference attendees who appeared to work for the North Korean government, and who, during his presentation, asked Griffith specific questions about blockchain and cryptocurrency and prompted discussions on technical aspects of those technologies,” DOJ said two years ago.
He went to North Korea even though he was denied permission by the U.S. Department of State and knew that doing so would violate U.S. sanctions against the DPRK while having no license from the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
According to court documents, the cryptocurrency expert chose to receive his travel visa on a separate paper instead of on his U.S. passport to avoid creating physical evidence of his travel to North Korea.
Faces 20 years in prison
After his guilty plea, Griffith, a U.S. Citizen and a Singapore resident, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced next year, on January 18, 2022.
“As he admitted in court today, Virgil Griffith agreed to help one of our nation’s most dangerous foreign adversaries, North Korea,” U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said today.
“Griffith worked with others to provide cryptocurrency services to North Korea and assist North Korea in evading sanctions, and traveled to North Korea to do so.
“In the process, Griffith jeopardized the national security of the United States by undermining the sanctions that both Congress and the President have enacted to place maximum pressure on the threat posed by North Korea’s treacherous regime.”