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Ethereum dev admits helping North Korea mine crypto-bucks, faces 20 years jail

A US citizen has admitted to helping the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to establish cryptocurrency capabilities and faces up to 20 years jail for his actions.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) on Monday revealed that Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith, a resident of Singapore, hatched plans in 2018 to help an individual in the hermit kingdom mine cryptocurrency.

In 2019 Griffith visited North Korea and spoke at a local cryptocurrency conference. The DoJ alleges Griffith and his co-conspirators “provided instruction on how the DPRK could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions,” and “how blockchain technology such as ‘smart contracts’ could be used to benefit the DPRK, including in nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States.”

The DoJ alleges that after the conference, Griffith “attempted to recruit other US citizens to travel to North Korea and provide similar services to DPRK persons, and attempted to broker introductions for the DPRK to other cryptocurrency and blockchain service providers.”

North Korea stands accused of multiple attacks on cryptocurrency infrastructure, conducted to help it secure funds it cannot access thanks to international sanctions imposed in protest at the DPRK’s human rights record.

Or, perhaps more accurately, its record of terrible human rights abuses – the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea found that the nation’s government has conducted “systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations, some amounting to crimes against humanity.”

The USA therefore prohibits exports of almost anything to the DPRK without a licence. And such a licence is not granted easily.

Almost every nation on Earth sanctions the DPRK for those activities, its belligerent pursuit of nuclear weapons, and its missile test program. The latter was on show today, with the launch of a short-range ballistic missile seemingly timed to coincide with the appearance of the DPRK’s Ambassador at the United Nations.

Griffith was charged with failing to obtain permission from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control before engaging with the DPRK, and pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

That single violation could earn Griffith as much as 20 years inside when he is sentenced in January 2022. ®