- Virgil Griffith pleaded guilty the morning before his trial last year – a decision that took many by surprise
- In addition to a jail sentence, he was fined $100,000 for being in violation of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)
The verdict on the case against Ethereum ex-developer Virgil Griffith was delivered on Tuesday by US District Judge Kevin Castel, who sentenced the programmer to five years and three months in prison. Griffith, known for his work on the smart contracts blockchain Ethereum and the WikiScanner tool, was arrested by the FBI in November 2019, half a dozen months after his speech at a cryptocurrency conference in North Korea.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) asserted that Griffith shared information to the Kim Jong Um administration on how to leverage blockchain technology to skirt sanctions at the Pyongyang blockchain and cryptocurrency conference held in April before he was arrested.
In a decision that shocked many, the Ethereum developer pleaded guilty last September to a charge of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Intentional violation of sanctions
The DoJ clarified that the internet and software researcher did not seek approval from the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to offer his expertise to North Korea. Court documents reveal that Griffith had been denied permission to travel to North Korea to attend the said conference.
He, however, went through with it and made his presentation fully aware it was in contravention of the US sanctions on North Korea.
“Griffith and his co-conspirators provided instruction on how the DPRK could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions. Griffith’s presentations at the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference had been approved by DPRK officials and focused on, among other things, how blockchain technology […] could be used to benefit the DPRK, including in nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States. Griffith and his co-conspirators also answered specific questions about blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies for the DPRK audience,” the DoJ statement read.
Though Griffith said he regretted his actions during the hearing, the judge held him accountable, saying his actions were deliberate.
Obsession with the DPRK
The Ethereum dev, who had been in federal custody for over 21 months after his bail was revoked, had an obsession with North Korea based on his letter to the judge.
His lawyers presented a psychological assessment revealing he had an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder as well as a narcissistic personality disorder. This, the defence team said, explained his fixation, adding that the two conditions contributed to his defiance of warnings.
It has to be noted that Griffith got a relatively lighter sentence through a plea deal as the charge has a maximum prison term of 20 years in prison.