Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith pleads guilty to charges in an agreement with a federal prosecutor and his trial will start today in New York. Griffth was arrested in 2019 after he went to North Korea’s capital Pyongyang and gave a talk at a blockchain conference there. Now, he is facing a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison over the conspiracy to violate the Emergency Economy Powers Act and he took the plea deal that will see him face about six years in prison.
Virgil Griffith’s trial starts today. The government wants to put him in prison for the alleged crime of speaking freely to the wrong audience.
Trials like this are where the law is made, where we find out how strong our civil rights really are. I stand with Virgil.#FreeVirgil
— Jake Chervinsky (@jchervinsky) September 27, 2021
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York argued that Griffith violated the international emergency economic powers act which prohibits exporting goods, services, or technology to North Koreans and in a statement, the US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman alleged that Griffith provided technical information to North Korea, knowing that the information will help them to launder money and to evade sanctions, as Berman explained:
“Griffith jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.”
I refuse to take the convenient path of throwing Virgil under the bus, because I firmly believe that that would be wrong. I’m signing. Reasoning below.https://t.co/E44p5caeJO
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) December 1, 2019
Griffith also entered the country in 2019 without approval from the US, despite being warned about traveling to North Korea as the criminal complaint alleged. In their turn, Griffith’s lawyers argued that the information that was provided didn’t qualify as a service and can be obtained by anyone on the internet which is why he claims his speech was protected by the First Amendment. Since his arrest, the crypto community split on the subject with some arguing that the actions he took were ill-advised. Ethereum’s co-founder Vitalik Buterin was among those that voiced their support for Griffith in 2019 as he tweeted at that time:
“I refuse to take the convenient path of throwing Virgil under the bus, because I firmly believe that that would be wrong.”
In the meantime, a petition to release Griffith from prison generated only 516 signatures in two years. As previously reported, After being denied bail, Griffht was granted a bond order for $1 million at the end of December 2019. The US Attorney’s Office, however, says Virgil Griffith violated bail after he tried to access his crypto account on Coinbase via a third party- his mother. He had been granted bail on the condition that he won’t access his accounts and will remain under house arrest with his parents in Alabama.
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