U.S. citizen charged with aiding North Korea to evade sanctions with blockchain

Dec. 3 (UPI) — A U.S. computer expert has been charged with conspiring to aid North Korea in evading sanctions through the use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, the Justice Department said.

Virgil Griffith, 36, appeared before a federal court in Los Angeles Monday, accused of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by traveling to the hermetic country to give a presentation on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, for which he faces up to 20 years in prison.

“Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly traveled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement.

Griffith, a U.S. citizen and a resident of Singapore, was arrested Nov. 28 at Los Angeles International Airport.

According to the criminal complaint, unsealed Friday, Griffith is accused of traveling to North Korea in April to participate in a blockchain conference in the capital city of Pyongyang despite being denied permission to do so by the U.S. State Department due to sanctions imposed against the embattled Asian nation.

At the conference, Griffith allegedly gave a presentation that “provided the DPRK with valuable information on blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies and participated in discussions regarding using cryptocurrency technologies to evade sanctions and launder money,” the complaint said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Following the conference, Griffith, who holds a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in computational and neural systems, allegedly began formulating plans to establish the exchange of cryptocurrency between North and South Korea and encouraged other U.S. citizens to travel to North Korea for next year’s conference, according to the complaint. He also had planned to renounce his…

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