Ethereum researcher Virgil Griffith pleads guilty to helping North Korea dodge US sanctions

Virgil Griffith
  • Virgil Griffith, an Ethereum Foundation researcher, pleaded guilty to aiding North Korea in sidestepping US sanctions.
  • US authorities alleged that he helped the North Koreans deploy blockchain tech to let the country sidestep sanctions.
  • “I don’t think what Virgil did gave DRPK any kind of real help in doing anything bad,” ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin said in 2019.
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Virgil Griffith, an Ethereum Foundation researcher, pleaded guilty to aiding North Korea in sidestepping US sanctions using blockchain technology, according to a Bloomberg report.

Griffith was arrested in 2019 after he attended a Pyongyang blockchain conference. US authorities alleged that he helped the North Koreans deploy blockchain tech to let the country sidestep strict international sanctions. Prosecutors say his presentation was tantamount to giving services to North Korea and his trip was not approved by America, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Griffith’s lawyers countered that he gave out simple information available easily online.

The trial was set to begin on Monday, but instead Griffith admitted to conspiring to violate sanctions law, according to Bloomberg. He could get up to 20 years in prison.

After he was arrested in 2019, ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin circulated a petition on Twitter calling for Griffith’s release, though he said the Ethereum Foundation was not involved in the Pyongyang trip.

“I don’t think what Virgil did gave DRPK any kind of real help in doing anything bad,” Buterin wrote. “There was no weird hackery ‘advanced tutoring.'”

“Geopolitical open-mindedness is a virtue. It’s admirable to go to a group of people that one has been trained since childhood to believe is a Maximum Evil Enemy, and hear out what they have to say,” he added.

North Korea is subject to so-called secondary sanctions, meaning that anyone who does business with the country can find themselves under fire.

In the pre-crypto days, Griffith made his name as an iconoclastic hacker who reveled in creating “minor public-relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike,” as he said in a 2008 interview with the New York Times.