Crypto expert jailed for five years in US after helping North KoreaVish Gainon April 13, 2022 at 08:21 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic


Virgil Griffith, a US citizen and cryptocurrency expert who worked at the Ethereum Foundation, has been sentenced yesterday (12 April) to more than five years in jail and fined $100,000 for illegally helping North Korea use blockchain technology to avoid US sanctions.

According to US law, citizens are prohibited from providing any goods, services or technology to North Korea without a license from the Department of the Treasury through the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The sanctions are in place to, among other reasons, hinder the rogue nation from funding and developing its nuclear programme – which the US considers a national security threat.

Griffith ‘knew’ what he was doing

Griffith, who worked as a research scientist at the Ethereum Foundation until his arrest in November 2019, travelled to North Korea in April 2019 to give a presentation on how cryptocurrency and blockchain can be used to evade US sanctions.

The court found that Griffith began planning as early as 2018 to help individuals in North Korea develop and fund cryptocurrency infrastructure, including crypto mining. “Griffith knew that [North Korea] could use these services to evade and avoid US sanctions, and to fund its nuclear weapons program and other illicit activities,” the Department of Justice wrote in a statement.

When travelling to Pyongyang to give the presentation, Griffith was aware he was breaking US law, the court said. And according to court documents, he asked to receive his travel visa on a separate paper instead of his US passport – likely to remove evidence of his visit.

‘A crypto hero’

On his LinkedIn page, Griffith describes himself as a “technologist mixing novel technology and social insight to solve hard problems”.

One of the judges at the New York federal court hearing said that Griffith knew what he was doing and still did it because he wanted to become “a crypto hero to be admired and praised for his standing up to government sanctions”, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Griffith’s lawyers argued for a lower sentence of two years in jail, citing ‘personality disorders’ that he allegedly suffers from as well as the time he already spent in a detention centre before the sentencing. “He is a talented person who has a lot to contribute,” said one of his lawyers.

Before his arrest, Griffith was based in Singapore – where he had moved in 2015 to become a research fellow at the National University of Singapore after concluding that “the best place for new growth is Asia”.

Virgil Griffith at the UC Berkeley School of Information in 2007. Image: Joe Hall/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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