A few weeks ago, it was reported that Virgil Griffith, a former researcher at Etherem, had been arrested for traveling to North Korea to participate in a blockchain conference that taught North Koreans how to avoid US sanctions through the use of the technology. This was in violation of international law and once again brought up the topic of North Korea’s participation within the crypto industry for nefarious reasons and also shed light on the complex relationship between various countries and how blockchain could play a role.
Now, Griffith has formally pled not guilty to charges of violation of international law via his participation in the conference.
On January 20, 2020, Griffith pled not guilty in a Southern District of New York courthouse to charges of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act during his April 2019 trip to North Korea. Griffith has previously described himself as a ‘disruptive technologist’ who seeks to make the Internet a better place but if convicted of these crimes, he could face up to 20 years in prison. According to reports, Griffith remained composed in court and was firm in his pleading of not guilty.
According to official court documents, Griffith had previously been denied his request of traveling to North Korea by the US government state department due to sanctions being put in place. However, he traveled to North Korea via China and then “provided the DPRK with valuable information on blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies, and participated in discussions regarding using cryptocurrency technologies to evade sanctions and launder money,”
During the trial, Griffith’s attorney had asked government officials if they had interviewed other people who attended the same conference and said that testimony from them might help exonerate his client. While Griffith lives in Singapore, he was arrested when he traveled to Los Angeles as this was in violation of sanctions that have been put in place previously following the Trump administration’s concern about the use of cryptocurrency for illegal activities by North Korea.