A U.S. citizen who is a cryptocurrency expert was charged Friday with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by giving North Korea information that could help it evade U.S. sanctions.
According to court filings, 36-year-old Virgil Griffith traveled to North Korea in April to attend a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang.
“Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly traveled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a press release. “By this complaint, we begin the process of seeking justice for such conduct.”
The unsealed complaint says the State Department had prohibited Griffith, who was a Singapore resident at the time, from making the trip but that he went anyway.
IEEPA forbids U.S. citizens “from exporting any goods, services, or technology to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] without a license from Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control,” according to the complaint.
The complaint also states, “GRIFFITH’s presentation at the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference had been approved by DPRK officials and focused on, among other things, how blockchain technology, including a “smart contract,” could be used to benefit the DPRK.”
Griffith was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday and appeared in federal court in L.A. on Monday.
If convicted, Griffith could spend up to 20 years in prison.