US citizen and Ethereum researcher Virgil Griffith was arrested on Thursday, November 28, at Los Angeles International Airport.
The computer programmer stands accused of assisting North Korea in evading sanctions imposed by the US government. According to a criminal complaint, Griffith allegedly violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) by traveling to North Korea to attend the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference where he gave a presentation on how to use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions and launder money.
According to the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office,
“In allegedly doing so, Griffith jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.”
Griffith allegedly traveled to North Korea despite receiving warnings not to go. FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. says,
“There are deliberate reasons sanctions have been levied on North Korea. The country and its leader pose a literal threat to our national security and that of our allies. Mr. Griffith allegedly traveled to North Korea without permission from the federal government, and with knowledge what he was doing was against the law.
We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk. It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary.”
Griffith earned his Phd in computation and neural systems from Caltech and joined the research team at Ethereum in 2016, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He was also a data scientist for the Tor Project where he co-founded, along with Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, the Tor2web proxy, designed to support whistleblowers and facilitate anonymous publishing on the internet.
Griffith, originally from Alabama, is a resident of Singapore. According to the complaint, he stated his intention to renounce his US citizenship. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.