He was warned by the U.S. State Department not to do it, but Virgil Griffith ignored the warnings and went to North Korea, anyway. When he returned last November, the Ethereum developer was met at Las Angeles International Airport by federal authorities and immediately arrested, charged with violating international sanctions against the country. Griffith has now made an appearance in court and has decided that he did nothing wrong when he talked about cryptocurrency in the country. He has pleaded not guilty to violating sanctions imposed on North Korea through the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
The IEEPA has been in place since 1977 and gives the President of the United States the authority to implement certain sanctions against countries or exterior entities that might pose a threat to the U.S., or to the world. North Korea was added to the list in 2008 due to “actions and policies of the government,” including alleged nuclear weapon programs and money laundering. As a result of the country’s placement on the list, it is prohibited to facilitate any activity that would help the country, or its citizens, circumvent economic sanctions.
However, that’s precisely what Griffith did. He traveled to the country to give a lecture on how North Koreans can use crypto to circumvent and evade the sanctions. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, he even demonstrated how digital currency could be used for money-laundering activity.
Griffith now stands accused of one count of conspiracy to violate the IEEPA. His lawyer, Brian Klein, denies the allegations, stating that his client “should not have been indicted.” And adding, “We are going to vigorously contest the charge and look forward to getting all the facts in front of the jury at trial.”
However, the Attorney’s Office says that it has the evidence to support the charges, including documents and statements from Griffith. It is ready to continue leading the case against the alleged conspirator and is said to be preparing to release more evidence within the next couple of weeks.
With Griffith pleading not guilty, both sides will have to present their arguments in court. A date for a hearing has tentatively been set for March 17, and the developer better hope his lawyers can mount a strong defense, or he might be spending the next 20 years behind bars.
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