U.S. law enforcement arrested 36-year-old Virgil Griffith on Thursday based on allegations that he traveled to North Korea earlier this year to provide them technical assistance in evading U.S. sanctions, NBC News reports. Griffith is reportedly an Ethereum developer.
According to U.S. officials, Griffith visited the country in April. While there, he allegedly offered a presentation that was designed to show North Korea’s government how to beat U.S. sanctions using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman described the alleged offense:
“As alleged, Virgil Griffith provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions. 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.”
The complaint alleges that Griffith admits to having traveled to North Korea to deliver a presentation at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, even though the State Department had denied his request to travel to the event. Griffith was reportedly interviewed by the FBI, which claims that he acknowledged that he knew his engagement with the North Koreans violated U.S. laws.
U.S. officials also allege that Griffith began working on plans to enable cryptocurrency exchange between North and South Korea soon after the April conference, despite acknowledging that the exchange would be in violation of U.S. sanctions. The statement from the U.S. Attorney alleges that he “announced his intention to renounce his U.S. citizenship and began researching how to purchase citizenship from other countries.”
If convicted, Griffith could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.