Virgil Griffith, a US citizen, a programmer and a cryptocurrency expert, was arrested last week on the grounds of aiding North Korea in violating international sanctions placed on the country.
According to close sources to Griffith, the 36-year-old Ethereum Foundation employee was working on developing an infrastructure to mine Ethereum in North Korea, as the sources revealed to Reuters. New cryptocurrencies are created by mining, a power-intensive computer process. Once created, they can be used for digital transactions through online trading platforms (crypto exchanges), transferred directly to others, or used to be converted into traditional fiat money.
It has not been confirmed yet whether North Korea was able to obtain the necessary equipment according to Griffith’s plans. However, Griffith was arrested under the allegation of sharing sensitive technical information at a conference in North Korea by federal prosecutors.
Griffith’s attorney, Brain Klein, stated that his client disputes the allegations in the complaint filed against him and looks forward to the court proceedings when the entire story is unfolded. He further commended the judge for releasing his client from jail until the trial.
The content of the criminal complaint filed against Griffith showed that he traveled to North Korea in April of this year to attend the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference even though Griffith was denied to do so by the United States State Department. The prosecutors said that among many other cryptocurrency experts, Griffith talked about how cryptocurrency technology could aid Pyongyang in laundering money and evading the US-imposed sanctions.
Furthermore, Griffith agreed in an interview with the FBI that his presentation consisted of technical information as per the content of the complaint. Griffith will be facing up to 20 years in prison.
The Ethereum Foundation clarified in a written statement that Griffith’s trip to North Korea was not affiliated with the company and he was not representing the Ethereum Foundation in any way or form. The statement added that the Foundation was indifferent to such a travel as it was Griffith’s personal matter.
US prosecutors accused Griffith of having participated with others in a conspiracy to violate rules outlined in the International Emergency Powers Act from 2018. However, the sources involved also stated that Griffiths involvement in the activity was related to his interest in proving help to North Korea to mine Ethereum, which he thought to be “really cool.”
Many people from the crypto community are calling for the release of Griffith. Perhaps the most famous one is Ethereum’s founder Vitalik Buterin who publicly expressed his support of Griffith.