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US cryptocurrency expert pleads guilty to helping North Korea evade sanctions

Graham CLULEY

September 29, 2021

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US cryptocurrency expert pleads guilty to helping North Korea evade sanctions

A US cryptocurrency expert has pleaded guilty to conspiring to assist North Korea in evading sanctions, and could now face years in prison.

Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in November 2019, and charged with violating US sanctions laws, after giving a presentation at a North Korean cryptocurrency conference earlier in the year.

At the time of Griffith's arrest, a legal complaint claimed that the developer travelled to North Korea, via China, despite being denied permission by the US State Department.

While at the cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, Griffith gave a presentation "with valuable information on blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies, and participated in discussions regarding using cryptocurrency technologies to evade sanctions and launder money."

38-year-old Griffith, also known by the online handle "Romanpoet", went on to encourage other US citizens to travel to North Korea.

There has been growing concern that North Korean military hackers have been responsible for a spate of cybercriminal activity, using digital bank heists and ransomware attacks to generate sometimes huge amounts of money for the cash-strapped regime, and then laundering the proceeds through cryptocurrency.

Griffith was released on bail in 2020, but returned to jail after violating his bail conditions.  It is understood he broke the terms of his bail agreement by trying to access cryptocurrency he stored on Coinbase in order to pay his defence team.

Pleading guilty this week, Griffith expressed remorse for his actions.  He is expected to be sentenced in January 2022.

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