U.S Citizen Facing 20 Years in Prison for Giving Blockchain Talk in North Korea

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Virgil Griffith is accused of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by giving a presentation on blockchain in North Korea.

Computer expert Virgil Griffith, a U.S. citizen living in Singapore, has been charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The Justice Department accusing him of conspiring to help North Korea evade sanctions via blockchain and cryptocurrency. If found guilty, his sentence could carry a punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

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“Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly traveled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement.

Sharing Secrets?

Griffith allegedly attended a blockchain conference in North Korea although denied permission by the State Department because of US-imposed sanctions. Authorities say Griffith gave the North Korean government valuable information on:

  • Blockchain
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Methods for using both to evade sanctions and to commit money laundering

The criminal complaint accuses Griffith of traveling to North Korea in April 2019 to participate in a blockchain conference in Pyongyang despite the U.S. State Department denying permission. The complaint also accuses him of plans to establish a cryptocurrency exchange between North and South Korea and to purchase citizenship from another country while renouncing his U.S. citizenship.

“As alleged, Virgil Griffith provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said. “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.”

As of August 2020, Griffith was free on bail and awaiting trial.

Sue Walsh

About Sue Walsh

Sue Walsh is News Writer for RTInsights, and a freelance writer and social media manager living in New York City. Her specialties include tech, security and e-commerce. You can follow her on Twitter at @girlfridaygeek.

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