A U.S. man has been arrested for teaching North Korea about blockchain. According to a press release, Virgil Griffith – a resident of Singapore but a citizen of the United States – has been charged with violating international restrictions by traveling to North Korea and providing a lecture and advice regarding blockchain technology and how it can be used to violate present sanctions.
North Korea: Using Blockchain for Illicit Purposes?
North Korea, a nuclear state, has had a very controversial relationship with cryptocurrency in the past. The country has been accused of engaging in cyberattacks on South Korea and neighboring regions as a means of garnering cryptocurrency. It has also been accused of utilizing digital funds to empower its nuclear program.
The country is home to some of the world’s biggest digital hacking and theft groups including Lazarus.
FBI assistant director William F. Sweeney Jr. issued a statement regarding Griffith’s detainment, claiming:
Mr. Griffith allegedly traveled to North Korea without permission from the federal government and with knowledge that what he was doing was against the law. We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons puts the world at risk. It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary.
The culprit allegedly traveled to North Korea last April to attend and speak at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference. The U.S. had denied Griffith’s request to travel to the sanctioned country, though he chose to attend despite the refusal. He also chose to provide the country and its attendees with information and products that could have potentially be utilized against the United States and its allies.
John Demers, assistant attorney general, explained the following:
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. By this complaint, we begin the process of seeking justice for such conduct.
Several nations that have presented enemy ideologies towards the United States are presently facing specific sanctions, and many have turned to crypto as a result. Venezuela, for example, has sought the Petro as a means of avoiding all future sanctions, though for the most part, the digital coin has failed to catch on as either a means of payment or even as a speculative tool.
Iran and Russia, as well, have examined the possibilities of creating their own digital currencies as means of avoiding U.S. sanctions.
The rules pertaining to delivering information and data to North Korea have been in place since 2008. Griffith was arrested on Thanksgiving at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). His case will be handled by the Department of Justice’s terrorism and international narcotics unit.