US Cryptocurrency Expert Jailed for Teaching North Korea to Evade Sanctions

An American cryptocurrency expert was sentenced Tuesday to 63 months in jail for teaching North Korea how to use blockchain technology to evade U.S. sanctions.

Virgil Griffith, 39, is an American citizen living in Singapore. He was arrested in November 2019 after presenting at a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang despite U.S. authorities denying his travel request.

He pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to violate international sanctions against North Korea.

According to the indictment, Griffith’s presentation at the conference focused on how blockchain technology like “smart contracts” could be used to benefit North Korea, including in nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States.

Griffith and his co-conspirators provided instructions to individuals in North Korea on how to use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade U.S. sanctions, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s statement.

The DOJ claimed that Griffith began formulating plans in 2018 to provide services to individuals in North Korea by developing and funding cryptocurrency infrastructure there.

“Griffith knew that the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] could use these services to evade and avoid U.S. sanctions, and to fund its nuclear weapons program and other illicit activities,” it stated, referring to North Korea’s official name.

Griffith allegedly helped to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between North Korea and South Korea, despite knowing that assisting such an exchange would be violating the international sanctions against North Korea, according to the DOJ.

He also attempted to recruit other U.S. citizens to travel to North Korea and provide similar services, as well as broker introductions for North Korea to other cryptocurrency and blockchain service providers.

Defense attorney Brian Klein described Griffith as a “brilliant Caltech-trained scientist who developed a curiosity bordering on obsession” with North Korea.

“We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons puts the world at risk,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said at the time of his arrest.

“It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary,” he added.

The United States and the U.N. Security Council have imposed increasingly tight sanctions on North Korea in recent years to try to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The U.S. government amended sanctions against North Korea in 2018 to prohibit “a U.S. person, wherever located” from exporting technology to North Korea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times