Virgil Griffith Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison in N. Korean Sanctions Case

Griffith, an Ethereum developer who pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to violate sanctions laws last year, will also pay a $100,000 fine


Virgil Griffith visited Pyongyang in 2019


key takeaways

  • “I have learned my lesson,” Griffith said at his sentencing hearing
  • Griffith was “obsessed” with North Korea and was ideologically motivated, the judge said

Software developer Virgil Griffith travelled to North Korea — officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — in 2019 and delivered a presentation based on publicly available info about open-source software. But he did so against the expressed wishes of the US government, according to the original criminal complaint. As a result, he was arrested upon his return to Los Angeles International Airport on conspiracy charges. Now with his sentencing, the case has finally come to a close.

Griffith pleaded guilty in September 2021 as the start of his trial in the Southern District of New York. He was sentenced on Tuesday to 63 months in prison and a $100,000 fine as a consequence of his violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which prohibits US persons from exporting any goods, services or technology to the DPRK without a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

At his sentencing hearing, US District Judge P. Kevin Castel said Griffith knew that his actions were illegal and hoped to become known as “a crypto hero” for going to a blockchain conference in Pyongyang anyway, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Some say Mr. Griffith is being persecuted for promoting crypto. But that’s not what this case is about. He pled guilty the day before trial. It was an intentional violation of sanctions, which are intended to avoid military conflict,” the judge said.

Griffith’s lawyers asked the judge for leniency considering the conditions of his incarceration, which included a stint at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he suffered from COVID for three weeks.

Griffith, for his part, expressed remorse.

“Watching Ukraine sanctions has shown me their value. I have been cured of my stubborn arrogance, and my obsession with North Korea. My career has been damaged. I’m sorry.”

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The US Attorney argued that, in light of US sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, it was important to “send a message about not undermining sanctions regimes,” the Inner City Press reported.

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