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Ethereum Research Scientist Virgil Griffith Arrested by U.S. Authorities

Virgil Griffith, resident of Singapore and U.S. citizen, was arrested for a criminal complaint where he was charged with violating, “…the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) by traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK” or “North Korea”) in order deliver a presentation and technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions.

“Mr. Griffith allegedly traveled to North Korea without permission from the federal government, and with knowledge 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 put the world at risk. It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr.

In this case, Griffith is specifically accused of traveling to North Korea (DPRK) in April 2019 to attend and present at the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference” (the “DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference”), even though the U.S. Department of State had denied Griffith permission to travel to the DPRK. Griffith presented at the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, knowing that doing so violated sanctions against the DPRK and at no time did Griffith obtain permission from OFAC to provide goods, services, or technology to the DPRK.

An Alabama native, Griffith reportedly became a hacker in college then invented WikiScanner, which exposes anonymous edits to Wikipedia entries, after graduation. A website that appears to belong to him, but which has not been updated since 2016, says: “My goals are to expose corruption, curb abuses of power, and with ‘gloves off’ ensure the digital age never becomes a digital dystopia.” The magazine, 2600: The Hacker Quarterly called Griffith’s arrest “an attack on all of us.”

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