Virgil Griffith Sentenced to 5-Year Jail for Helping Individuals in North Korea Evade Sanctions

The strong hands of the law have been stretched to Virgil Griffith, an American national and one of the Ethereum core programmers, who is sentenced to 63 months in jail by U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel for allegedly helping individuals in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) evade the US imposed sanctions.


The relations between North Korea and the United States remain intense as North Korea is reportedly still active with its nuclear program, which is still under sanctions by the United Nations. Based on this, the U.S. government enacted the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to prevent U.S. entities from doing business or selling technologies that can aid North Korea’s threats.

Despite knowing this, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said in its announcement that Griffith and his co-conspirators have developed and managed technologies that can help North Korean individuals mine crypto and eventually evade sanctions. The DoJ revealed that against the approval of relevant authorities, Griffith not just travelled to North Korea by offering services directly to the country, but he also had sought to recruit other American citizens to do the same.

“There is no question North Korea poses a national security threat to our nation, and the regime has shown time and again it will stop at nothing to ignore our laws for its own benefit. Mr. Griffith admitted in court he took actions to evade sanctions, which are in place to prevent the DPRK from building a nuclear weapon. Justice has been served with the sentence handed down today,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams.

Griffith, 39, pled guilty to the charges levied against him, and following his sentence, he will be placed on 3 years of supervised release atop a $100,000 fine. The DoJ is known to be proactive when it comes to high-profile fraudulent cases featuring crypto-linked entities. One of the crackdowns launched by the DoJ in recent years involves former BitMEX co-founder and CEO, Arthur Hayes, who promptly resigned from the role following the criminal charges levied against him and other executives of the trading firm.

Image source: Shutterstock


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Ethereum Developer Griffith Pleads Guilty To Violating U.S. Sanctions

American programmer and developer Virgil Griffith pleaded guilty today to violating U.S. sanctions law. Griffith created Wikipedia indexing tool WikiScanner, co-designed the Tor2web proxy, and was a senior research scientist with the Ethereum Foundation who at one point led special projects for the platform.

The North Korean Crypto Conference

A federal grand jury convened by the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York alleged that Griffith conspired to allege the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Griffith was set to go on trial today, but instead changed his plea to guilty to the lone charge. Prior to shifting his plea, he was facing up to 20 years in prison.

He will be sentenced in January 2022, and reports state that the plea deal could conclude with somewhere between 63 and 78 months of prison time. The maximum sentence even with the plea deal, however, is still north of 6 years.

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Griffith was arrested in November 2019 after allegedly speaking on blockchain and cryptocurrency in North Korea earlier that year. The U.S. Attorney’s office alleged that during that talk, he “provided highly technical information” that he knew “could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.” The event was a “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference” in April 2019, according to the Department of Justice press release.

Griffith was released on bail last year, however he was jailed after attempting to access his Coinbase account to pay attorneys this year. Prosecutors stated that this move was a violation of the terms of his bail conditions.

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International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)

Despite not residing in the U.S., Griffith was a U.S. citizen and thus subject to the IEEPA charges. Journalist and author Ethan Lou, who was with Virgil Griffith in North Korea, was at the courthouse today and tweeted developments. As Lou aptly notes, since Griffith only faced “conspiracy to violate” the IEEPA and that actually helping North Korea was not vital to find him guilty. Accordingly, says Lou, “the prosecution does not need to prove any tangible results of any specific action.”

The IEEPA states that U.S. persons are “prohibited from exporting any goods, services, or technology to the DPRK without a license”. The bar to find Griffith guilty was undoubtedly quite low.

Following Griffith’s plea shift, Lou noted that he was “quite emotional” and that it was “unclear what new development caused this guilty plea,” adding that “one possible reason is the barring of the remote testimony of an Ethereum Foundation lawyer.”

The two-year back and forth between the U.S. Attorney’s office and Virgil’s representatives finally comes to a close.

Related Reading | 2.1 Million Salvadorans Actively Using Chivo Wallet, El Salvador’s President Claims

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ETH developer Virgil Griffith back in jail after allegedly checking Coinbase account

Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith has violated the terms of his bail and has been taken into custody after he allegedly accessed his cryptocurrency account.

The remand order came from U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel after Griffith reportedly sought to access Ethereum assets held by Coinbase in May.

The Ethereum Foundation researcher will likely spend the next two months behind bars. He is scheduled to be tried on September 21 on charges of conspiracy to violate sanctions with North Korea and faces up to 20 years inside.

According to Law360, Judge Castel’s main concern was flight risk since the assets Griffith held had jumped in value into the $1 million range, which may have influenced his decision to check the wallet, the judge stated.

Prosecutors sought remand on July 9, claiming that Griffith violated bail terms that sharply restrict his internet use. He allegedly accessed Coinbase to contact the exchange to request the removal of account security functions reportedly stating: “I’m going to need the [two-factor authentication] removed as the FBI took my devices away.”

Defense lawyers claimed the attempt to access Coinbase was made after consulting his counsel, adding that it was his family in Alabama that made the attempt on his behalf.

Griffith was charged and indicted on January 7, 2020, after his arrest in November 2019 for conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. He was initially denied bail but was finally granted a bond order for $1 million at the end of December 2019.

Related: Vitalik Buterin Supports Petition to Free Arrested Blockchain Dev

Federal authorities believe he assisted North Korea’s efforts to launder money using cryptocurrency to avoid U.S. sanctions after he attended a blockchain conference in Pyongyang in April 2019.

In October 2020, Griffith filed a motion to dismiss the conspiracy charges, claiming that his April 2019 conference presentation consisted of widely available public information, therefore he was not providing a “service” to North Korean officials. The following month, lawyers representing the U.S. government labeled the argument “absurd”.


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Potential India Crypto Ban, Worldwide Darknet and Virgil Griffith’s Saga Continues

In this episode, Anna Baydakova, Tanzeel Akhtar and Danny Nelson discuss possible crypto restrictions in India, fresh darknet market research from Chainalysis and the newest chapter in Virgil Griffith’s North Korea saga.

Will India ban crypto? The move by the government, rumoured for months, may be not as bad as expected. For now, it’s only about illegal activities involving crypto and using it to pay for things, as Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur told the nation last week.

India had cracked down on cryptocurrencies: In April 2018, the Reserve Bank of India barred India’s banks from serving crypto exchanges and related businesses. The ban was successfully challenged in India’s Supreme Court and lifted last March. Whether you can really ban crypto in any form is another question, though.

As for illegal use cases, Chainalysis new report on darknet markets and crypto says Russia, the U.S., Ukraine and China are the countries that pump the most money into the illegal goods marketplaces. Per the previous Chainalysis’ report on global crypto adoption, Ukraine and Russia also lead the global retail adoption of crypto.

Does it mean most of the crypto adoption in these countries are “dark”? One thing is clear: Both these countries are user bases of Hydra, the world’s most successful drug marketplaces, pocketing about 75% of the entire darknet markets’ revenue, Chainalysis said.

In the meantime, the court case of Ethereum dev Virgil Griffith is moving along – and it doesn’t look good. During the latest hearing, on Jan. 27, the judge rejected Griffith’s motion to dismiss charges he violated U.S. sanctions law in North Korea. Griffith’s lawyers’ argument that his speaking at a conference in North Korea is not equal to providing “services” to the sanctioned country apparently did not convince Judge Kevin Castel. Free speech or helping bad guys do bad things? A jury will decide in Griffith’s case.

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Judge Rejects Virgil Griffith’s Motion to Dismiss Charges of Aiding North Korea

Virgil Griffith’s motion to dismiss the charges against him claiming that he violated U.S. sanctions law in North Korea was denied late Friday by a judge in the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

U.S. Judge Kevin Castel denied the motion, leaving it up to a jury to decide whether Griffith is guilty of helping North Koreans circumvent U.S. economic sanctions using cryptocurrency. SDNY prosecutors allege that Griffith violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by giving a speech in April  at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference on how to use cryptocurrency to get around U.S. sanctions. 

Griffith’s team has argued that first amendment rights protected him and that he did not render North Korea “services” since he received no compensation for the speech.

“The failure to allege that Griffith was paid a fee by the DPRK does not render the indictment defective,” Castel wrote. “The indictment alleges an object of the conspiracy was ‘to provide services to the DPRK.’ This is sufficient and encompasses the provision of useful labor or human effort whether or not compensation was contemplated.”

The U.S. State Department banned all U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea without express permission in 2017. According to today’s ruling, Griffith’s request was initially rejected by the State Department, but later granted by the DRPK UN mission in Manhattan after he sent copies of his CV, passport, and explained his desire to attend the conference.

In today’s ruling, the judge also denied Griffith’s demand for a bill of particulars. In December 2020, Griffith’s attorneys filed documents arguing that he didn’t know what exactly he had been accused of saying or doing. 

“Griffith contends that he is in the dark as to the services he is accused of providing to the DPRK,” Castel wrote. “But Griffith’s briefing to this Court makes it plain that through discovery he has learned much of the government’s evidence. He does not seek the bill of particulars simply as a means to learn facts, but to limit proof at trial. As already stated, a bill of particulars is not a discovery tool to limit the government’s evidence.”



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Jury Trial will Decide if Ethereum Dev Nigel Griffith Helped North Korea Evade Sanctions

Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith has been accused by the US Department of Justice of aiding North Korea (DPRK) in evading sanctions and will now face trial by jury.

Jury Trial will Decide if Ethereum Dev Nigel Griffith Helped North Korea Evade Sanctions

Virgil Griffith must now face a jury for the DOJ’s claims that a speech the Ethereum dev gave at a Pyongyang crypto conference in 2019 served to empower Kim Jong Un’s administration of the DPRK to evade sanctions and launder money.

According to Law360 on Jan 29, Griffith’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges have now been denied by a New York federal judge. The Ethereum developer’s motion claimed that the charges should be dismissed as his right to free speech is protected by the US Constitution’s first amendment.

Griffith also requested clarification on the charges through a bill of particulars, claiming he has been unable to sufficiently prepare his defense as the four-page indictment against lacked specific detail outlining his criminal conduct.

The New York judge has also rejected Griffith’s request for clarity, stating that he the “adequate notice of the charges” against the Ethereum developer had been provided. The judge further cited text messages that had been allegedly sent by Griffith prior to his speech in Pyongyang which stated:

“We’d love to make an Ethereum trip to the DPRK and set up an Ethereum node […] It’ll help them circumvent the current sanctions on them.”

The judge has now pushed the case forward and Griffith and his legal team will have to convince a jury that the Ethereum developer did not aid the authoritarian regime of North Korea in circumventing US sanctions.

The Case and Consequences

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York announced on Nov. 29, 2019 that Griffith had been charged with ‘Conspiracy to Violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)’ by traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) in order to deliver a presentation and technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions.”

According to the official complaint, Griffith had explicitly asked and been denied permission to travel to North Korea in order to give the presentation on blockchain technology. Specifically, the document outlines that Griffith had been aiding the development of a crypto exchange between North Korea and South Korea and was fully aware this would violate U.S. sanctions against the DPRK.

A January 2020 indictment was put forward against Griffith, accusing him of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

IEEPA is a US federal law that enables the President to regulate external variables that may threaten national security. If the situation in question is classified as a national emergency, the President is allowed to regulate it in ways he sees fit. Griffith attending a blockchain conference in North Korea has been enough to anger the US, as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has long been considered a high-risk country by the United States.

While Griffith has claimed his speech was protected and has characterized his presentation as delivering “information that one could readily learn from a Google search.”

The judge also made note that the fact that Griffith was not explicitly paid for the speech should have no bearing on the jury’s ruling. The judge stated:

“Even if Griffith’s presentation at the conference, taken in isolation, did not qualify as the provision of services, or was exempt under the information exception, evidence at trial may be sufficient to demonstrate his guilt in conspiring to provide services.”

Should Griffith be found guilty of the allegations, the Ethereum developer may potentially be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

Image source: Shutterstock


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Ethereum dev must face jury for allegedly helping North Korea evade sanctions

A New York federal judge has denied an Ethereum developer’s motion to dismiss criminal charges over allegations he assisted the North Korean regime to bypass U.S. sanctions.

The developer and former-hacker, Virgil Griffith, is accused of helping North Korea evade economic sanctions by delivering a speech during a Pyongyang blockchain conference in April 2019.

Law360 reported that in his motion, Griffith had claimed the speech he delivered at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference was protected by his First Amendment right to free speech.

Griffith also requested a bill of particulars, claiming he was unable to prepare for the hearing as the four-page indictment against him was “short and vague,” and lacked specific detail outlining his criminal conduct. However, the judge also rejected this request, finding that “adequate notice of the charges against Griffith” had been provided.

The judge cited text messages Griffith allegedly sent to colleagues during the lead up to the conference, stating:

“We’d love to make an Ethereum trip to the DPRK and set up an Ethereum node […] It’ll help them circumvent the current sanctions on them.”

Another message apparently noted that while Griffith did not know exactly what the purpose of the North Korean administration’s interest in crypto assets was, he speculated it was “probably avoiding sanctions.”

Griffith’s fate must now be determined by a jury.

In January 2019, the U.S. state department denied Griffith’s request to travel to the North Korean capital to discuss “the applications of blockchain technology to business and anti-corruption.”

Despite the rejection, Griffith successfully sought approval from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s UN Mission in Manhattan, and was issued a visa one month later.

The Department of Justice announced Griffith’s arrest on Nov. 29, 2019, with U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman alleging that Griffith “provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.”

A January 2020 indictment charged Griffith with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by seeking to provide “services” to North Korea.

While Griffith has claimed his speech was protected by the act’s “information exemption” — characterizing the presentation as delivering “information that one could readily learn from a Google search” — the prosecution claims the speech could empower Kim Jong Un’s administration to evade sanctions and launder money.

The judge also noted that the fact Griffith did not receive financial remuneration for the speech may not impact the jury’s ruling, stating:

“Even if Griffith’s presentation at the conference, taken in isolation, did not qualify as the provision of services, or was exempt under the information exception, evidence at trial may be sufficient to demonstrate his guilt in conspiring to provide services.”


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Ethereum Developer Virgil Griffith Will Likely Face Trial Next September

The U.S. government intends to argue that Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith helped North Koreans better understand how crypto could be used to bypass financial sanctions on the nation.

Griffith, who was arrested in November 2019 on charges of conspiracy to assist North Korea (DPRK) in using cryptocurrency for its own benefit, is seeking to have the case against him dismissed. While U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, of the Southern District of New York, made a handful of rulings on minor points in the case, a full trial has been tentatively scheduled for September 2021.

According to the government’s complaint, Griffith traveled to Pyongyang to speak at a blockchain conference last April despite being denied permission from the U.S. government. This is the first case involving cryptocurrency and sanctions in the U.S. courts. 

In October, Griffith’s representatives filed a motion to dismiss charges levied against him. The motion argued that Griffith relaying public information on blockchain technology to North Koreans did not constitute providing the nation a service, and the government’s allegations failed to specify facts. 

During the Tuesday hearing on the case, this became a strong point of contention. Judge Castel questioned if the government planned to argue that information disclosed in Griffith’s speech at the conference was “above and beyond” existing blockchain capabilities and knowledge of the DPRK.

“What I want to know is whether the government intends to stand in front of the jury and argue that the information that Mr. Griffith provided and intended to provide, as an object of the conspiracy, included information not otherwise known to the DPRK. Do you plan to do that?” he asked. 

The prosecution replied it will not be making this argument, because the defense’s definition of DPRK in the motion to dismiss was too broad. Instead, it will provide evidence on how Griffith’s speech and the Q&A session that followed helped individuals within the audience understand how cryptocurrency works. 

“Mr. Griffith himself made statements to the FBI, in which he described a lack of sophistication of the people in the audience who are asking questions, with certain exceptions, and the types of things he was doing to help them better understand these concepts. So whether or not there is, but there are materials that reflect the DPRK as a whole or some other unknown component of the DPRK cryptocurrency capabilities is not an issue in this case,” prosecution attorney Kyle Wirshba said.  

What does not appear to have been clarified is what specific charges Griffith will face trial over: the complaint includes a broad charge of violating sanctions law, but Griffith’s attorneys want to know what exactly he is being accused of.


Although Judge Castel did not rule on the motion to dismiss the charges against Griffith, a number of other orders were given out. 

Judge Castel granted a motion by the defendants to compel the disclosure of information that the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) may have participated in Griffith’s case from the initial communications between the FBI and OFAC starting on October 24, 2019 until the present time. 

“Generally speaking, when the prosecution conducts a joint investigation with another state or federal agency, the courts in this circuit have held that the prosecutor’s duty extends to reviewing the materials in the possession of that other agency for Brady purposes,” Judge Castel said. 

The Brady Rule requires the prosecution to disclose any information in possession of the government that could clear someone of guilt.  

The judge denied a motion by the defendant to reveal the identity of a witness that the government has yet to confirm. The government has no obligation to do so until 30 days prior to the trial, Judge Castel said. 

Read more: USA v. Virgil Griffith: What We Know (and Don’t) in the Bombshell Crypto Sanctions Case  

Citing the prosecution’s statement that it will not argue that the information Griffith passed on during his speech at the conference exceeded the DPRK’s crypto and blockchain capabilities, Judge Castel deferred ruling on the motion by the defense to search for information held by government agencies regarding those capabilities. 

Instead, he asked the two parties to work on a stipulation on the issue and submit it to the court by January 25, 2021. 

Finally, the judge proposed a range of dates for commencing the trial in September 2021. It was also decided that Griffith’s attorneys will submit a letter requesting the easing of some of the restrictions placed on the defendant. 

“As you know, he’s been on very, very tough restrictions,” Defense lawyer Brian E. Klein said, adding that Griffith has no internet access and can’t leave his home. 

Both parties were ordered to submit a letter to the court by Dec. 30 this year if they have objections to starting a trial in September 2021.



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