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Ethereum Developer Virgil Griffith Sentenced to 5+ Years For Speaking About Ethereum in North Korea

On April 12, 2022; Virgil Griffith, a former developer at the Ethereum Foundation, was sentenced to more than 5 years in prison on the charge of conspiracy, after traveling to Pyongyang in 2019, in violation of the international sanctions framed under The International Emergency Economic Powers Act imposed by the government of the United States on the government of North Korea.

Griffith pleaded guilty to one single conspiracy charge for delivering a lecture on cryptocurrencies in North Korea, explaining the use of Ethereum and the basics of smart contracts.

In addition to serving the 63-month prison sentence, Griffith must pay a $100,000 fine to the U.S. government.

Griffith could have faced up to 20 years in prison

Virgil Griffith was arrested in November 2019 in the U.S. after returning from North Korea following his lecture on Ethereum. He served approximately 2 years in custody of which he spent 14 months on bail, so the remainder will be appended as time served.

Thanks to his plea, Griffith’s sentence was reduced from a maximum of 20 years to almost 6 years in prison. In addition, according to the Daily Beast, the defense asked for leniency for the “inhumane” conditions the inmate was living in by prohibiting him from family visits and forcing him to use his sink as a toilet.

John Demers, an assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, said Griffith had been repeatedly warned not to attend the conference to avoid any problems, a point that Griffith decided to ignore.

The Ethereum Community and Other Crypto Enthusiasts Support Griffith

Despite pleading guilty to the conspiracy charge, the crypto community and renowned players such as Vitalik Buterin showed their support for Griffith, stating that what he had explained during the conference was in the public domain and he did not have any personal gain from his trip, so he should not have been sentenced for conspiracy.

I refuse to take the convenient path of throwing Virgil under the bus, because I firmly believe that that would be wrong. I’m signing. Reasoning below.

— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) December 1, 2019

Griffith said he had “learned his lesson” and was deeply ashamed to be in prison for traveling to North Korea against the warnings of his family, friends, and the U.S. government.

However, this did not seem to matter to the prosecution. According to Judge Castel, Griffith was not good-intended and instead showed “a desire to educate people on how to evade sanctions.”

So beyond the sentence and fine imposed on the former Ethereum developer, this conviction could serve as an example for anyone attempting to use cryptocurrencies to circumvent U.S. sanctions.


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