Virgil Griffith, whose LinkedIn site identifies him as being a research scientist for Ethereum (click here to access), was arrested and criminally charged with traveling to North Korea and providing North Korean officials with “valuable information” regarding blockchain and virtual currency technology and how to use such technologies to avoid economic sanctions and launder money. Mr. Griffith was specifically charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (click here to access 50 U.S.C. § 1705(a)). Since adoption of IEEPA, US presidents and the Office of Assets Control of the US Department of Treasury have imposed sanctions on North Korea and certain of its officials and precluded the transfer of any technology to that country without a license.
According to an affidavit of a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation incorporated in a complaint filed against Mr. Griffith in a federal court in New York City, Mr. Griffith surreptitiously travelled to North Korea in April 2019 through China after being denied approval to do so directly by the US Department of State. He presented at a conference there entitled “Blockchain and Peace,” and discussed, among other topics, how blockchain technology, including smart contracts, could be used to benefit North Korea.
If convicted, Mr. Griffin could be subject to imprisonment of up to 20 years.