Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith has been indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) after speaking at a cryptocurrency conference hosted by the North Korean government last April.
Griffith was initially arrested on Thanksgiving at Los Angeles Internation Airport after FBI Special Agent Brandon M. Cavanaugh alleged that the Ethereum dev had breached the IEEPA in traveling to North Korea without authorization and providing knowledge on how the country can utilize blockchain technology to launder money and evade sanctions. The case was then brought before a court in the Southern District of New York, which heard that Griffith had sought and been denied approval to travel to North Korea.
“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,” John Demers, an assistant attorney general for national security, said during a court hearing in November. The court also heard that Griffith attempted to evade US legal requirements during the course of his actions.
Griffith has been employed by The Ethereum Foundation since 2016 as a research scientist, with his work particularly focusing on whether Etherteum is compliant with Sharia Law. His decision to travel to North Korea has been defended by Ethereum’s co-founder Vitalik Buterin, who said it was an “admirable” move and that he didn’t believe Griffith had provided the authoritarian regime with “any kind of real help in doing anything bad.”
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After initially being denied, Griffith was subsequently granted bail on a bond of $1 million USD, which, as of yet, has not been posted. Griffith’s lawyer also stated that he has been suspended by The Ethereum Foundation, despite Buterin’s support. If found guilty, Griffith faces up to 20 years in jail, with the US Attorney’s Office also demanding that he hand over any property or money obtained as payment for his appearance in North Korea.
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