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US Arrests Ethereum Developer for Conducting Cryptocurrency Presentation in North Korea

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Virgil Griffith, who has lately been working at the Ethereum Foundation, has been arrested for allegedly going to a conference in North Korea and sharing his expertise in using cryptocurrency.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced Friday that Griffith was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Thanksgiving Day.

“I don’t think what Virgil did gave the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] any kind of real help in doing anything bad, he delivered a presentation based on publicly available info about open source software.”
– Vitalik Buterin in his Tweet.

In April, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea, held the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference. According to a complaint brought against Griffith, he sought approval to attend the conference which was denied. He then travelled to the conference without permission, allegedly by way of China.

The complaint against Griffith was authored by a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation named Brandon M. Cavanaugh. He notes that on May 22, 2019, the two participated in what Cavanaugh calls a “consensual interview.”

In a charging document, it was alleged that Griffith “discussed how blockchain and cryptocurrency technology could be used by the DPRK to launder money and evade sanctions, and how the DPRK could use these technologies to achieve independence from the global banking system.”

The affidavit does not name any specific cryptocurrency, only asserting Griffith had expertise in what it refers to as “cryptocurrency-1”. It alleges that “after the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, Griffith began formulating plans to facilitate the exchange of Cryptocurrency-1 between DPRK and South Korea.”

As part of the interview, Griffith showed the agent photos and documents from the gathering and said he would like to return to the conference when it happens again in 2020.

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