Ethereum developer gets five-year jail term for aiding North Korea evade US sanctions using crypto

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Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith will serve 63 months in prison for conspiring with North Korea to evade US sanctions using cryptocurrency. The charges against him came after his 2019 trip to the country to give a talk on Ethereum and crypto.

In November 2019, Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith was arrested for allegedly helping North Korea escape US sanctions through cryptocurrency. The 39-year-old developer has now been sentenced to 63 months in prison, in addition to a fine of $100,000.

Of note, several nations, including the US have imposed sanctions on North Korea due to its nuclear weapons program. US citizens are also barred from traveling to the Asian country, exempting only those with a permit or special conditions.

Griffith traveled to a blockchain conference in the North Korean capital Pyongyang to give a presentation on Ethereum and cryptocurrency. This he did without permission from the US government. On his way back, he was arrested at the airport and charged with violation of The International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

Griffith gets 5 year imprisonment for helping North Korea

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

In Sept. 2021, following a deal with federal prosecutors, the developer pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy. At a little over five months, his sentence is somehow lenient considering he could have received up to six and a half years.

At the sentencing, Griffith spoke with regret saying he “genuinely, arrogantly, and erroneously thought he knew better.” He added:

Everyone warned me. This was a terrible idea.

Jose Pagliery, a reporter from The Daily Beast tweeted that US District Judge P. Kevin Castel appeared “particularly irritated” when handing down the sentence. Castel remarked that Griffith knowingly sought to aid North Koreans in evading sanctions through cryptocurrencies.

“[There’s] a narrative that Virgil Griffith is a kind and gentle man who merely wanted to speak at a conference … and was persecuted for his actions,” Castel said. “Those are not the facts. That’s not what happened. Virgil Griffith hoped to come home … a crypto hero.”

Cryptocurrency facilitating sanctions evasion

Griffith previously served at the Ethereum Foundation as a research scientist. Following his arrest, he received support from several notable figures in the crypto industry. Vitalik Buterin in particular led a petition for his immediate release. According to him, Griffith only shared information that is publicly available through open-source software.

Russia has been accused of the same charges that Griffith will now be serving a sentence for. Its war crime against Ukraine has caused numerous detrimental effects, including what has now been coined as the ‘Putin price hike.’ The nation has drawn heavy criticism and multiple sanctions from nations all over the world. Nonetheless, reports say Russia has found a way of evading these sanctions through cryptocurrency.