Former Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith has been sentenced to more than five years in U.S. federal prison for helping North Korea evade sanctions.
Griffith was arrested in 2019 and pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The 39-year-old presented at a blockchain conference in Pyongyang after the U.S. government denied his request to travel there.
The crypto researcher was a U.S. citizen living in Singapore who formerly worked for the Ethereum Foundation, according to reports.
Prosecutors accused him of advising more than 100 people, including some who appeared to be affiliated with the North Korean government, on how to use cryptocurrencies to evade sanctions and circumvent the global banking system.
Heavier punishment sought for Griffith
The five-year three-month sentence, imposed by U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel, was the minimum amount of jail time the prosecutors had sought. Griffith had asked for two years considering his cooperation.
The judge also imposed a $100,000 fine which was well below the million dollars sought by the prosecutors who wrote:
“Griffith is an American citizen who chose to evade the sanctions of his own country to provide services to a hostile foreign power,”
In his defense, attorney Brian Klein said that the 63-month sentence was disappointing but the judge did acknowledge “Virgil’s commitment to moving forward with his life productively and he is a talented person who has a lot to contribute.”
Griffith, who has a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology, had previously cooperated with the FBI and “helped educate law enforcement” about the dark web, Klein added. He has also been described as a “well-known hacker” by some American media outlets reporting on the sentencing.
In December 2019, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin voiced his support for Griffith by signing a petition to free him at the time.
Tightening sanctions on North Korea
Increasingly tighter sanctions have been imposed on North Korea by the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council. In 2018, the U.S. government amended those sanctions to prohibit its citizens from “exporting technology” to the rogue nation.
The U.S. has also become increasingly concerned over the perceived role that cryptocurrencies may have in Russia’s efforts to evade sanctions. However, those concerns have been widely refuted by industry experts who have shown that volatile crypto assets could not be used by a country with such a large forex market.