Cryptocurrency expert gets 5 years in NKorea sanctions case

A cryptocurrency expert has been sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for helping North Korea evade US sanctions

NEW YORK — A cryptocurrency expert was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison on Tuesday for helping North Korea evade U.S. sanctions.

Virgil Griffith, 39, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy, admitting he presented at a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang in 2019 even after the US government denied his request to travel there. low.

A well-known hacker, Griffith also developed “cryptocurrency infrastructure and equipment in North Korea,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. At the 2019 conference, he advised more than 100 people — including several who appeared to work for the North Korean government — on how to use cryptocurrency to evade sanctions and gain independence from the global banking system.

The United States and the UN Security Council have imposed increasingly harsh sanctions on North Korea in recent years in an attempt to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US government amended sanctions against North Korea in 2018 to ban “an American, anywhere” from exporting technology to North Korea.

Prosecutors said Griffith acknowledged that his presentation amounted to a transfer of technical knowledge to conference attendees.

“Griffith is a United States citizen who chose to evade his own country’s sanctions to provide services to a hostile foreign power,” prosecutors wrote. “He did so knowing that the power – North Korea – was guilty of atrocities against its own people and made threats against the United States citing its nuclear capabilities.”

Defense attorney Brian Klein described Griffith as a “brilliant Caltech-educated scientist who developed a curiosity bordering on obsession” for North Korea. “He saw himself – albeit arrogantly and naively – as acting in the interests of peace,” Klein said. “He loves his country and has never sought to do harm.”

Klein added that he was disappointed with the 63-month prison sentence but “gratified that the judge recognized Virgil’s commitment to moving his life forward in a productive way, and that he is a talented person with a lot to do. bring”.

A self-described “disruptive technologist,” Griffith became something of a enfant terrible of the tech world in the early 2000s. In 2007, he created WikiScanner, a tool that aimed to catch people who anonymously edited entries. in Wikipedia, the participatory online encyclopedia.

WikiScanner could essentially determine the companies, institutions or government agencies that owned the computers from which certain modifications were made. He quickly identified companies that sabotaged competitor entries and government agencies that rewrote history, among other findings.

“I’m very happy to see the mainstream media enjoying the fireworks of PR disaster like me,” Griffith told The Associated Press in 2007.

Klein previously said Griffith cooperated with the FBI and “helped educate law enforcement” about the so-called dark web, a network of encrypted internet sites that allow users to remain anonymous.

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