Virgil Griffith, a cryptocurrency expert and member of the Ethereum project, has been arrested by U.S. law enforcement officials at Los Angeles International Airport on suspicion of violating the International Emergency Economic Rights Act. Media reported that it is suspected of helping North Korea evade sanctions through blockchain technology. If convicted, the 36-year-old U.S. citizen and Singapore resident faces up to 20 years in prison.
(Instagram via TechSpot)
To illustrate the specifics, Virgil Griffith has previously been refused permission to travel to North Korea and has even been repeatedly warned of the consequences of such behaviour. Despite this, he went there earlier this year and gave a technical speech at a conference on blockchain and cryptocurrencies in Pyongyang.
Virgil Griffth’s move jeopardizes the sanctions that Congress and the president have imposed on North Korea, the Justice Department said in a press release. The FBI also said the sanctions are designed to prevent malicious actors from financing their weapons of mass destruction programs.
Yet Virgil Griffith travelled to North Korea in April alone to discuss how to use cryptocurrencies to evade such restrictions and “money laundering.”
To make matters worse, it describes a plan to simplify the exchange of cryptocurrencies between the two Koreas, in violation of U.S. sanctions restrictions. Virgil Griffith then invited other U.S. citizens to North Korea for meetings over the next few years, the report said.
The U.S. government has been informed that Virgil Griffith has been seeking information on renouncing u.S. citizenship and is studying citizenship options or asylum in other countries. But some supporters see his intention as to connect the two Koreas and have the ability to prove his innocence.
Earlier this year, a leaked UN report said North Korea had stolen billions of dollars from cyberattacks to help its weapons program.
As cryptocurrencies become more popular, $3.1 billion in digital assets have been stolen from exchanges this year, the researchers note. By the end of 2019, that number could climb to more than $4 billion.