Crypto Developer Pleads Guilty to North Korean Plot

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A former Ethereum developer has pleaded guilty to helping North Korea escape US sanctions by providing technical advice on cryptocurrency.

Singapore resident and US citizen Virgil Griffith, 38, conspired to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) on one count, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison.

According to the Department of Justice (DoJ), he began developing and funding cryptocurrency infrastructure in the hermit nation as far back as 2018, knowing that the spoils from mining digital coins could help the country evade sanctions and fund its nuclear weapons program.

In April the following year, he’s said to have given a presentation in Pyongyang, along with several unnamed co-conspirators, in which he explained how cryptocurrency could be used to evade sanctions and how smart contracts could be used in weapons negotiations with the US. This is despite the State Department denying Griffith permission to travel to the North Korean capital.

He’s also said to have attempted to recruit other US citizens to join his scheme. However, during this period, no attempt was made to contact the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to request a license for exporting goods, services or technology to North Korea.

Griffith initially pleaded not guilty back in January 2020, following his arrest at Los Angeles International Airport in November 2019.

It emerged in August this year that four unauthorized FBI staffers were able to view data that had been extracted from Griffith’s Twitter and Facebook accounts due to a bug in the Palantir analytics software they were using.

However, it doesn’t seem to have had any bearing on the investigation or the criminal case against the developer.

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

“In the process, Griffith jeopardized the national security of the United States by undermining the sanctions that both Congress and the President have enacted to place maximum pressure on the threat posed by North Korea’s treacherous regime.”

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