US Citizen Accused of Helping North Korea to Evade Sanctions with Crypto

Virgil Griffith, a US citizen and a programmer, has been accused of violating International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”).

The accusation comes after Virgil allegedly traveled to North Korea to deliver a presentation about how the country can use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to move around all the sanctions that have been imposed on the country. He was arrested in LA International Airport.

The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, commented on how Virgil Griffith had willingly provided highly technical and sensitive information to the North Korean government and said that the information that he had provided can also be used for money laundering. Berman continued:

“In allegedly doing so, Griffith jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.”

According to Assistant Attorney General John Demers, Griffith was given multiple warnings not to travel to North Korea, but he didn’t stop. He called North Korea one of the US’ “foremost adversaries” and questioned Griffith’s motivations.

William F. Sweeney Jr., FBI’s Assistant Director-in-Charge, mentioned that there are reasons why these sanctions have been placed on the country. This act of Virgil Griffith poses a threat to the national security of the United States.

Griffith allegedly knew that he was traveling to North Korea without the permission of the government, and he was also allegedly aware that his actions were against the laws of United States. The information that he provided to North Korea can aid the country in developing nuclear weapons.

Griffith traveled to North Korea in April of 2019 for presenting in a conference known as “DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference.” In the conference, it was discussed how North Korea can use blockchain technology and cryptocurrency to evade sanctions and stabilize its economy. The conference was attended by many representatives of the North Korean Government and Griffith was allegedly fully aware of that.

The defendant also started to work on plans regarding an exchange of cryptocurrency between North and South Korea. Griffith also started to establish a plan of leaving his U.S citizenship and becoming a citizen of some other country for the purpose of working in North Korea, another proof for his awareness.

Currently a resident of Singapore, Griffith is 36 years old. He is being charged to violate the IEEPA. The maximum sentence for this violation can be 20 years in prison, but it depends on the judge to decide the duration of the sentence for the defendant.

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