Monday, October 25, 2021

U.S. citizen nabbed conspiring to assist North Korea evade sanctions

The accused is said to have taught North Korean officials to evade U.S. sanctions by trading cryptocurrency.

• September 27, 2021
Virgil Griffith
Virgil Griffith [Photo credit: SLATE]

Virgil Griffith, a 38-year-old United States citizen and Singapore resident, has pleaded guilty to supporting North Korea to evade U.S. sanctions.

U.S. prosecutor Audrey Stauss says Mr Griffith provided technical advice to North Koreans on cryptocurrency, jeopardising the U.S. national security and undermining sanctions that congress and the president placed on North Korea.

Without a license from the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), U.S. citizens are not allowed to export goods, services, or technology to North Korea under the IEEPA and Executive Order 13466.

“As he admitted in court today, Virgil Griffith agreed to help one of our nation’s most dangerous foreign adversaries, North Korea.

“Griffith worked with others to provide cryptocurrency services to North Korea and assist North Korea in evading sanctions and travelled to North Korea to do so.

“In the process, Griffith jeopardized the national security of the United States by undermining the sanctions that both Congress and the President have enacted to place maximum pressure on the threat posed by North Korea’s treacherous regime,” Mr Stauss said. 

A cryptocurrency expert, Mr Griffith is accused of creating plans in 2018 to assist North Korean officials by establishing cryptocurrency infrastructure there, including mining cryptocurrency.

The statement said he was well aware that North Korea might use these services to dodge and circumvent U.S. sanctions and fund its nuclear weapons program and other criminal actions.

Mr Griffith was said to have in April 2019, attended the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference after the U.S. Department of State denied him permission.

At the conference, Mr Griffith delivered presentations, and according to the statement, “knowing that doing so violated sanctions against the DPRK.”

He is accused of providing instructions to North Korea on how to use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions.

Mr Griffith’s presentations “focused on, among other things, how blockchain technology such as “smart contracts” could be used to benefit the DPRK, including in nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States,” the statement added.

After the conference, Mr Griffith was said to have pursued plans to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between North and South Korea, despite knowing that assisting with such an exchange would violate the U.S. imposed sanctions.

He was said to have also attempted to recruit other U.S. citizens to “travel to North Korea and provide similar services to DPRK persons, and attempted to broker introductions for the DPRK to other cryptocurrency and blockchain service providers,” the statement said.

If convicted, Mr Griffith faces up to twenty years imprisonment.

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