- Virgil Griffith was arrested for providing highly technical information to North Korea that they can use to evade US sanctions and launder money
- Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin is signing a petition to free Virgil Griffith. He argues that Griffith’s presentation at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference had no ill intentions
The FBI arrested and criminally charged a Singapore-based U.S. digital currency specialist for allegedly assisting North Korea to use cryptocurrency and blockchain technology “to evade sanctions and launder money.”
Virgil Griffith aged 36, was arrested on Thursday, 28 November, at Los Angeles International Airport and charged with providing crucial technological information that could assist North Korea dictatorial government led by Kim Jong-un evade US sanctions.
Griffith revealed the information during his presentation at the April 2019 Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference held in Pyongyang, North Korea. Griffith traveled to North Korea despite being warned and denied permission to visit the country.
On top of the charge, Griffith was also accused of planning to streamline Ethereum exchanges between North and South Korea against US sanctions. According to a press release by the US Department of Justice, in so doing, Griffith “jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.”
The FBI also stated that the sanctions were enacted to prevent malicious actors from funding and to appraise their weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The US authorities also obtained intelligence of Griffith looking to terminate his US citizenship and look for asylum or citizenship in other countries.
Following the allegations, Griffith was charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and could face up to 20 years behind bars if convicted.
Griffith, a California Institute of Technology Ph.D. alumni, is part of the Ethereum Foundation’s Special Projects group. While the charges against Griffith don’t implicate Ethereum, his arrest has sparked sympathy from cryptocurrency enthusiasts led by Vitalik, who is petitioning for his release.
A Petition to Free Virgil Griffith – Vitalik Buterin Supports It
Already, there is a petition circulating to free Virgil Griffith, and it’s being supported by numerous people, including Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin. Through a tweet, Vitalik stated: “I refuse to take the convenient path of throwing Virgil under the bus because I firmly believe that that would be wrong. I’m signing. ” Vitalik was responding to a blog post titled, “Let’s start a petition to free Virgil Griffith,” started Enrico Talin, the founder of Commerc.io.
Vitalik stated that it was necessary to release Griffith because he made no personal gain from his trip to North Korea and that his actions were not intended to inflict harm. Vitalik concluded that:
“So I hope the USA shows strength rather than weakness and focuses on genuine and harmful corruption that it and all countries struggle with rather than going after programmers delivering speeches parroting public information.”
Whether the petition will be considered and Griffith set free, only time will tell.