According to a report on NBC News, cryptocurrency expert and hacker Virgil Griffith was sentenced to five years in prison this Tuesday for aiding North Korea in avoiding U.S. sanctions. The sentence comes in wake of his participation in a cryptocurrency-focused conference held in North Korea's capital city, Pyongyang in April 2019, which the U.S. citizen attended even after being denied a travel permit for the purpose. Griffith pled guilty to conspiracy last year, which accelerated his sentencing.
According to the prosecutors' documentation, Griffith aided in the development of cryptocurrency-focused infrastructure and equipment inside North Korea. These accusations build upon the transmission of sensitive and highly technical information that would allow for the circumvention of U.S. sanctions deployed throughout classic (non-crypto) financial systems. The information was disclosed to a panel of around 100 participants in the 2019 cryptocurrency conference, which included North Korean government officials.
Prosecutors said Griffith acknowledged his presentation could configure a transfer of technical knowledge to the conference's attendees, which are prohibited under the U.S. sanctions directed at the country and its residents. Participation in the conference was thus likened to a technology export, which prompted the prosecutors' pursuit of the case.
According to them, the knowledge was passed on with the full knowledge that its direct recipients posed a nuclear and historic threat against the United States, putting national security at stake. It didn't help Griffith's case that he actively circumvented the absence of a travel permit by entering North Korea via China. Besides the five-year sentence, Griffith has also been fined $100,000.
Brian Klein, Griffith's attorney, described the turn of events as an unfortunate error on the hackers' part, who "developed a curiosity bordering on obsession" as it pertains to North Korea. He further claimed Griffith's actions were carried out in the interest of an "arrogant and naïve" belief that he was carrying them out in the interest of peace.
Cryptocurrencies and blockchain tech in general have garnered increased attention as vehicles for skirting economic sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the series of sanctions levied at the Russian state, its territories and citizens. Before Ukraine's invasion, Russia was considering a ban on cryptocurrencies, a position that looks like it's being reversed in wake of the paralyzing sanctions and private company pull-outs from the market, adding credence to cryptocurrency's potential implications for worldwide geopolitics.