An American programmer named Virgil Griffith pled guilty to conspiring to violate the U.S. International Emergency Economic Powers Act by supplying North Korea with technical advice on using Blockchain technologies and cryptocurrency that helped the country evade sanctions imposed by Washington, the U.S. Justice Department announced at the beginning of this week.
"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," said Audrey Strauss, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, where Griffith was put on trial. She added that "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."
According to the indictment, Griffith, an expert on Blockchain technology and especially on the Ethereum currency, began formulating plans to assist North Korea by developing cryptocurrency infrastructure there, including to mine cryptocurrency. The Justice Department said that "Griffith knew that the DPRK could use these services to evade and avoid U.S. sanctions, and to fund its nuclear weapons program and other illicit activities."
In April 2019, Griffith traveled to the "Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference" held in Pyongyang, even though the American authorities had denied him permission to travel there, and provided instruction regarding the use of blockchain technologies for money laundering. The statement by the Justice Department said that, among other things, he provided instruction on "how blockchain technology such as 'smart contracts' could be used to benefit the DPRK, including in nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States." In addition, he liaised between North Korean officials and cryptocurrency experts, as well as tried to recruit other American citizens for his goal.
The 38-year-old Griffith was arrested at the end of 2019. He pled guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, as mentioned, and is expected to receive the maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars. Griffith is scheduled to be sentenced in January 2022. North Korea is one of the most significant players in the world of cybercrime, which is a main source of the country's income, and the expansion of North Korea's capabilities in this field raises concern worldwide.