Virgil Griffith, who works for blockchain and cryptocurrency firm Ethereum in Singapore, has been arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport for violating US sanctions by advising North Korea on how it could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies to evade the sanctions.
US sanctions prohibit the transfer of goods, services, or technology to North Korea due to its nuclear weapons program.
Speaking on Griffith’s arrest, FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said,
We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk.
The US Justice Department has stated the arrest, which says that Griffith was denied permission to travel to North Korea, but he still went there and made a presentation at the North Korea cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang. In the presentation, he suggested that the North Korean government could use blockchain and virtual currency technologies to avoid US sanctions.
The statement also alleges that Griffith began outlining plans for carrying out cryptocurrency transactions between North Korea and South Korea after North Korean officials showed a keen interest in his proposals. He had also announced plans of surrendering US citizenship and “purchasing” citizenship of another country.
Griffiths has a doctorate in theoretical neuroscience and was hailed by the New York Times as a “cult hacker” 11 years ago.