Virgil Griffith is facing 20 years in prison (Lulu Lorien via Wikimedia Commons).
People,  Technology

Virgil Griffith formally charged over North Korea speech

The former Ethereum developer has been indicted for conspiracy to use cryptocurrency to violate U.S. sanctions; co-conspirator to be arrested shortly

Former Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith, who was arrested on Thanksgiving, has been formally indicted for conspiracy to use cryptocurrency to violate U.S. sanctions on North Korea.

Griffith was arrested after giving a lecture at a North Korean cryptocurrency conference in April.

To avoid prison, do not tweet your illegal North Korean visa (via Twitter).
To avoid prison, do not tweet your illegal North Korean visa (via Twitter).

Prosecutors alleged that Griffith discussed how to use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions.

The indictment, filed with the court on Jan. 7, also noted that one other unnamed suspect accused of conspiring with Griffith “is expected to be first brought to and arrested in the Southern District of New York,” the federal court jurisdiction where Griffith is being prosecuted.

Griffith, who was the head of special projects for the Ethereum Foundation, was arrested on Thanksgiving Day at Los Angeles International Airport on federal charges of illegally traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to deliver a presentation and technical advice on using crypto and blockchain technology to evade sanctions at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference

Attorney Stephen D. Palley noted on Twitter that the government said at the bail hearing that it is only looking at a one- to two-year sentence for Griffith, not the maximum 20 years he faces.

On Dec. 30, Griffith was granted release from custody on $1 million bail by District Judge Vernon Broderick. Most of that bail was being put up by his sister and his parents, who are taking out liens on their homes. Griffith, a U.S. citizen who resided in Singapore, was to live with his parents in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he grew up, pending trial.  

He was still awaiting release, however. According to court documents, Griffith has yet to satisfy his bail conditions. The U.S. Attorney’s office told Inner City Press on Wednesday that Griffith is, “Still awaiting the approval of his co-signers and the posting of properties as collateral.”

The International Emergency Economic Powers Act prohibits U.S. citizens from exporting goods, services or technology to North Korea without approval from the Treasury Department. 

Griffith’s  case has been assigned to the Southern District of New York Judge P. Kevin Castel.  

Modern Consensus reached out Griffith’s lawyer, Brian Klein of Baker Marquart LLP. He had not responded by press time.

Updated at 10:02 a.m. on Jan. 9, 2020, to reflect forthcoming arrest of an alleged co-conspirator, and report that Griffith only faces one to two years in prison. Lead image also replaced.

Updated at 10:40 a.m. on Jan. 9, 2020, to remove comment intended to be off the record.

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Amy Castor has more than 20 years' experience in journalism. Her work on crypto and blockchain has appeared in consumer and trade publications throughout the U.S., including CoinDesk, Forbes, Bitcoin Magazine, and The Block.