NewsTechnology

Ethereum Dev Virgil Griffith Gets Five Years in Prison for North Korea Trip

Griffith was arrested in 2019 and charged with conspiring to help North Koreans evade sanctions via cryptocurrency.

2 min read
Ethereum researcher Virgil Griffith. Image: Facebook

In brief

  • Former Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith was sentenced to 63 months in prison today.
  • Griffith was charged with conspiring to help North Koreans evade U.S. sanctions via cryptocurrency.

Virgil Griffith, an Ethereum developer who was arrested following a trip to North Korean capital Pyongyang in 2019, today was sentenced to 63 months in prison and fined $100,000.

Griffith traveled to Pyongyang to give a talk about Ethereum and cryptocurrency at a blockchain conference. He was arrested in November 2019 and charged with conspiracy to violate The International Emergency Economic Powers Act, accused of helping North Koreans learn how to use cryptocurrency to evade U.S. sanctions.

The developer also traveled to North Korea without permission from the U.S. government. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman previously alleged in a letter that Griffith “provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.”

Griffith pleaded guilty to the single charge of conspiracy in September 2021 in a deal with federal prosecutors. At just over five years, his sentence was at the low end of the guidelines, and he could have received up to six-and-a-half years.

At the sentencing, the 39-year-old Griffith said that he “‘genuinely, arrogantly, and erroneously’ thought he knew better,” according to a report from The Daily Beast. Griffith added: “Everyone warned me. This was a terrible idea.”

The Daily Beast reporter Jose Pagliery tweeted that U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel appeared to be “particularly irritated” when handing down the sentence. Castel said that Griffith intentionally sought to help North Koreans use cryptocurrency to evade sanctions.

“[There’s] a narrative that Virgil Griffith is a kind and gentle man who merely wanted to speak at a conference ... and was persecuted for his actions,” Castel said, according to the report. “Those are not the facts. That’s not what happened. Virgil Griffith hoped to come home ... a crypto hero.”

Griffith, who previously worked as a research scientist at The Ethereum Foundation, received support from many notable figures in the crypto industry following his arrest, including from Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin.

Want to be a crypto expert? Get the best of Decrypt straight to your inbox.

Get the biggest crypto news stories + weekly roundups and more!