Great Britain

US cryptocurrency promoter pleads guilty to advising North Korea on using virtual money to avoid international controls

An American cryptocurrency expert has pleaded guilty to advising North Korea on how to use blockchain technology to launder money to avoid international sanctions.

Vigil Griffith, 38, a Singapore based crypto expert and US national, travelled to Pyongyang in April 2019 to allegedly give a presentation to North Korean government officials on how they can avoid international controls by using virtual money.

He was arrested in November that year and was charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which prohibits any US citizen from exporting goods, services or technology to North Korea.

Mr Griffith has now pleaded guilty in a District Court in Manhattan on Monday and faces up to 20 years of jail.

“Setting aside what happened, he has made important contributions to society that we will raise with the court,” his attorney Brian Klein added in a prepared statement. “He also has many wonderful qualities, and no one should define him by this mistake,” he said.

Mr Griffith, who earlier worked as a senior researcher for the Ethereum Foundation, was set to face a criminal trial before his guilty plea.

In a Department of Justice release in 2019, US attorney Geoffrey S Berman said Mr Griffith sent “highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help them launder money and evade sanctions.”

He added that in doing so, “Griffith jeopardised the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.”

Federal prosecutors in the court documents also alleged that the State Department denied Mr Griffith permission to travel to the conference, but he ignored that and travelled to Pyongyang via China.

“Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly travelled 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,” assistant attorney general John Demers said in the release.

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