Ethereum Developer Arrested for Violating U.S Sanctions Against the DPRK

Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith has been arrested by the FBI for conspiracy to provide services to North Korea. Vitalik Buterin speaks on his behalf.


thereum developer Virgil Griffith has been arrested in Los Angeles for conspiracy to, and the provisions of services to the North Korean regime. On Friday Nov 29, it was announced from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York that the member of the Ethereum Foundation had been arrested.

According to the document linked here outlining the case against him by the FBI, Griffith has failed to obtain permission from the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control and is in violation of International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

According to FBI Special Agent, Brandon Cavanaugh, he consensually interviewed Griffith on May 22nd of 2019 and Griffith discussed details of his travel to North Korea.

In April of this year, Griffith attended the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference he had sought permission to attended from the U.S, but was denied by the U.S State Department.

Deciding to go anyways, he sought out help arranging travel to North Korea and a DPRK diplomatic mission. He was able to secure a paper visa that allowed him to travel through the DPRK mission mention. According to the document, he used a separate paper visa to avoid having anything physical evidence of his visit to the DPRK.

On the DPRK website, which hosts information regarding the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference that will be hosted in February of 2020. The FAQ answers the question, “will my passport be stamped?” with:

“No, for your convenience we will provide a paper visa separated from your passport, so there will be no evidence of your entry to the country. Your participation will never be disclosed from our side unless you publicize it on your own.”

A concerning statement in the document, Cavanaugh said, “At the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, Griffith and other attendees discussed how blockchain and cryptocurrency could be sued by the DPRK to launder money and evade sanctions, and how the DPRK could use these technologies to achieve independence from the global banking system.”

Cavanaugh also states that Griffith said after the conference he began formulating plans to facilitate the exchange of crypto between North and South Korea, all while knowing that this was against the law.

A follow-up interview with Cavanaugh and another FBI agent occurred November 12th and more details were released about Griffith’s activities in North Korea.

Cavanaugh also discussed details in the document about text messages sent from Griffith’s phone. In one text message he inquires about sending cryptocurrency between North and South Korea. The individual who responded to this text said, “Isn’t that violating sanctions?” to which Griffith responded, “it is.”

Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum said that the Ethereum Foundation has nothing to do with Griffith’s action to date.

“EF paid nothing and offered no assistance; it was Virgil's personal trip that many counseled against,” said Buterin. - USE AS QUOTE

A judge has ruled that there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial and currently Griffith has been released from jail until the trial date.

Brandon Stewart

I am a risk manager and journalist. I write about business, technology, health, and whatever new thing happens in the world of crypto.