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Cryptocurrency expert pleads guilty to helping North Korean government use blockchain to evade sanctions

By on September 27, 2021 0


Cryptocurrency expert Virgil Griffiths has pleaded guilty to helping North Korean officials escape sanctions using blockchain and cryptocurrency in 2019. Griffiths now faces up to 20 years in prison and will be sentenced January 18, 2022.

Griffiths was arrested in November 2019 after flying to North Korea in April 2019 and gave a technical talk to the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference. Griffiths was reportedly warned by US State Department officials not to make his trip, but he went anyway.

The 38-year-old, who was residing in Singapore before his arrest, pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in a U.S. district court on Monday.

“As he admitted in court today, Virgil Griffith has agreed to help one of our country’s most dangerous foreign adversaries, North Korea. Griffith has worked with others to provide services cryptocurrency to North Korea and help North Korea escape sanctions, and traveled to North Korea to do so, ”said US lawyer Audrey Strauss.

“In the process, Griffith has jeopardized the national security of the United States by undermining the sanctions that Congress and the President enacted to exert maximum pressure on the threat posed by the treacherous North Korean regime. ”

US citizens are prohibited from “exporting goods, services or technology” to North Korea without a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The Justice Department claimed Griffith began planning his aid to the government of North Korea in 2018 by “developing and funding cryptocurrency infrastructure there, including to mine cryptocurrency.”

He would have known that the tools he was creating would be used to evade US sanctions and fund government activities that include North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and “other illicit activities.” His presentation at the conference was “tailored to the DPRK audience,” according to a statement from the Justice Ministry.

“At the DPRK cryptocurrency conference, Griffiths and his co-conspirators explained how the DPRK could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions,” explained the Ministry of Justice.

Griffiths’ presentations at the DPRK cryptocurrency conference had been approved by DPRK officials and focused, among other things, on how blockchain technology such as’ smart contracts’ could be used in the benefit of the DPRK, including in the nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States. ”

Griffiths and others also helped answer blockchain questions from North Korean government officials and worked to set up means of exchange for cryptocurrency between North Korea and South Korea.

Initial Criminal Complaint Says Griffith Was Working On ‘Plans To Facilitate The Exchange Of Cryptocurrency-1 [Ether] between the DPRK and South Korea. “

The Justice Department accused Griffiths of going even further, pledging to recruit other experts to travel to North Korea for blockchain projects and establish connections between government officials and service providers. cryptocurrency.

Griffith was a member of the Ethereum Foundation’s Special Projects Group before his arrest. It also operated a Tor-to-Web (Tor2Web) service called Onion.city, according to a previous report from ZDNet.