• “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.”

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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  • Macauley was an editor and content creator in the professional chess world for 14 years, prior to joining Blockworks. At Bucerius Law School (Master in Law and Business, 2020) he researched stablecoins, decentralized finance and central bank digital currencies. He also holds an MA in Film Studies; film credits include Associate Producer of the 2016 Netflix feature documentary, "Magnus" about World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. He is based in Germany. Contact Macauley via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @yeluacaM