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Crypto expert ends up in jail for advising North Korea on sanctions evasion

Crypto expert ends up in jail for advising North Korea on sanctions evasion

North Korea has been accused of stealing from financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges, and businesses in recent years in order to finance its nuclear and missile programs.

An American citizen, Virgil Griffith, 39, has been sentenced to more than five years in federal prison, for counseling North Korea on cryptocurrency trading, which was in violation of US sanctions. 

Griffith was sentenced on Tuesday, April 12, after pleading guilty to conspiracy last year, according to a report by ABC. Although the United States authorities refused his request to go to North Korea, he confessed to speaking at a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang in 2019.

A well-known hacker, Griffith is also accused of developing “cryptocurrency infrastructure and equipment inside North Korea,” according to court documents filed by prosecutors. 

A total of over 100 persons, including some who appeared to be working for the North Korean government, received advice from him during the 2019 conference, which focused on using cryptocurrency to dodge sanctions and attain financial independence from the global banking system.

In recent years, both the United States and the United Nations Security Council have tightened sanctions on North Korea in an attempt to rein in the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. 

Sanction on North Korea

In 2018, the United States government revised sanctions on North Korea to prohibit “a US person, wherever located” from exporting technology to North Korea.” 

Griffith admitted to prosecutors that his presentation amounted to a transfer of technical information to conference participants, according to the prosecution. 

“Griffith is an American citizen who chose to evade the sanctions of his own country to provide services to a hostile foreign power. He did so, knowing that power — North Korea — was guilty of atrocities against its own people and has made threats against the United States citing its nuclear capabilities,” prosecutors wrote.

Defense attorney Brian Klein described Griffith:

A “brilliant, Caltech-trained scientist who developed a curiosity bordering on obsession” with North Korea. He viewed himself — albeit arrogantly and naively — as acting in the interest of peace,” Mr Klein said.

Mr. Klein previously said that Griffith engaged with the FBI and “helped educate law enforcement” about the so-called dark web, which is a network of encrypted internet sites that enables users to stay anonymous on the internet.

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