A US federal judge has denied a petition by a former Ethereum Foundation developer on charges of helping North Korea evade sanctions. Prosecutors claim Virgil Griffith assisted the regime by providing critical information about cryptocurrencies.
Prosecutors say Griffith’s speech looked at using cryptos to evade sanctions
According to Law360, a jury is now due to determine whether Griffith has violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by giving a speech at the 2019 Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference.
Kevin Castel, a US district judge, denied Griffith’s motion because the “brief and vague” four-page indictment lacked specific details of his alleged criminal activity. He further commented on the matter:
The court will review the charges in the light of the parties’ arguments and conclude that it has sufficient knowledge of the charges brought against Griffith to prepare for trial and, if necessary, to use a dual threat defense. After reviewing the Law on Conduct of Criminal Offenses, the prosecution establishes a federal crime and does not violate any constitutional prohibition.
Prosecutors accused the former Ethereum Foundation developer of delivering a speech in Pyongyang on the use of cryptocurrencies to circumvent US economic sanctions.
Griffith was arrested on Thanksgiving 2019. However, on December 30, 2019, he was granted bail by U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick.
Many crypto supporters stood up for Griffith’s cause when he was arrested, and influencers like John McAfee called the US government “essentially corrupt.”
Griffith did not get permission from the US Department of Justice to travel to South Korea for the conference. However, according to court documents, he received approval from the North Korean United Nations (UN) mission in Manhattan and obtained a visa.
Griffith claims his speech was based on publicly available information on blockchain
The Ethereum proponent claims he gave very basic information about blockchain to about 100 North Koreans who attended his speech. He also adds that everything said in his attendance is publicly available on the internet. However, prosecutors believe that North Korea could use the content of his speech to launder money and possibly evade sanctions.
The court also revealed a message Griffith sent to colleagues in 2018 ahead of his speech that reads:
We would like to take an Ethereum trip to the DPRK and set up an Ethereum node. This will help them bypass the current sanctions against them.
However, the former blockchain developer claimed in its rejected motion that such a speech was protected by the freedom of speech provided by the First Amendment.
At press time, the trial date for Griffith’s case is set for September 2021.
What do you think of this federal judge’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
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