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

Virgil Griffith pleads not guilty to violating sanctions on North Korea

Unless the Ethereum developer changes his plea, he could face a lengthy trial 

Virgil Griffith, the former head of special projects for the Ethereum Foundation, stood before a judge in the Southern District of New York courthouse Thursday and entered a plea of not guilty.

Griffith, a resident of Singapore and citizen of the U.S., is charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, after traveling to North Korea to speak at a cryptocurrency conference in April 2019. The act prohibits U.S. citizens from exporting goods, services, or technology to the country without approval from the U.S. Government.

In fact, Griffith did seek a special validation to travel to North Korea. The U.S. denied his request, but he went there anyway, via China, according to the government’s criminal complaint filed Nov. 21.

For his court appearance yesterday, Griffith flew from Alabama, where he is living with his parents while out on bail. Griffith’s lawyer, Brian Klein, told Modern Consensus he had “no comment” on the matter. Although, in a Tweet back in December, Klein said: “Virgil looks forward to his day in court, when the full story can come out.”

The government has accused Griffith of actively helping North Korea violate sanctions using cryptocurrency. In speaking to an FBI agent in November, Griffith claimed that the information in his talk contained basic concepts available on the internet, according to the complaint.   

Earlier this month, after reading over the bail hearing transcript, Attorney Stephen Palley noted on Twitter that based on current charges, the government said Griffith is only looking at a sentence of somewhere between 1-2 years, not the maximum 20 years he faces.

Either way, a not guilty plea means that Griffith could face a costly and protracted trial. How he will pay for that remains a puzzle. Currently, he is free on $1 million bail living with his parents in Tuscaloosa while he awaits trial. His parents and his sister, who lives in Washington, D.C., both put up their homes to secure his bail. 

Griffith was originally arrested on Nov. 28, at Los Angeles International Airport, and formally indicted by a grand jury on Jan. 7. 

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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.