Vitalik Buterin Advocates to Free Ethereum Researcher Charged for Aiding North Korea

Clay Curtis
December 3, 2019

He showed photos of his trip and said he would like to attend the same conference next year.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, Griffith used his knowledge and expertise to teach a North Korean conference how to leverage cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology to evade sanctions. A criminal complaint against him was unsealed Friday.

Griffith is accused of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by traveling to North Korea "in order deliver a presentation and technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions", according to a news release from the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of NY.

According to Klein, Griffith is set to be released from prison once his bond is posted.

Brian Klein, a defense attorney representing Griffith who specializes in technology cases, said in a statement, "We dispute the untested allegations in the criminal complaint".

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The U.S. Department of State denied Griffith permission to travel to North Korea.

That law is part of a slew of economic sanctions the USA government has imposed on Kim Jong Un's regime for its pursuit of atomic and ballistic missiles programs, but North Korea has used its considerable cyber-capabilities to find other sources of cash. However, Virgil traveled to North Korea in April this year and reportedly discussed how the country could use cryptocurrency to evade such restrictions and "launder money".

An Ethereum developer made news last week after being arrested on charges of conspiracy. After the conference, Griffith also began creating plans to facilitate cryptocurrency transactions between North Korea and South Korea, knowing that it would violate U.S. sanctions.

The allegations against Griffith appear to be based largely, if not entirely, on two interviews he did voluntarily with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and information he allowed agents to download from his cellphone, according to the complaint.

Griffith is a research scientist for the Ethereum Foundation, a Swiss-based cryptocurrency platform. "Griffith replied, in sum and substance, 'probably avoiding sanctions... who knows, '" the complaint says. Griffith did research at several respected institutions, including Stanford University and the Santa Fe Institute, and now works at Ethereum Foundation, a research arm of the ethereum cryptocurrency, according to a curriculum vitae Griffith posted online. In a statement, Ethereum told CNN Business it did not approve or support Griffith's travel to North Korea.

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