a.i & blockchain

through blockchain, a u.s. citizen assisted north korea in evading sanctions

In a plea agreement, a citizen of the united states admitted to giving technical assistance to north korea on the use of bitcoin and blockchain technologies to bypass sanctions. he is due to be sentenced in january 2022 and may spend up to two decades in jail if found guilty of the charges against him.

griffith worked as a senior researcher and developer for the ethereum foundation in the early days of the project. a presentation at the pyongyang blockchain and cryptocurrency conference, which took place in april in pyongyang, north korea, was one of his travel destinations in april 2019. as a representative of pyongyang, griffith tried to recruit other residents of the united states as well as communicate with bitcoin and blockchain service providers. the indictment does not identify any of the alleged “others” who are believed to be engaged in the investigation. north korea has a well-documented history of employing foreign agents to circumvent international sanctions, and this practice continues today. earlier this month, griffith was not the first american citizen to plead guilty to crimes stemming from the north korean nuclear program.

through the use of foreign agents operating as over-the-counter (otc) brokers, pyongyang is able to interact with businesses and organizations that would otherwise be out of reach due to united states and united nations sanctions. in light of north korea’s political and economic isolation relative to the rest of the world, foreign agents constitute an essential route for communicating with the regime in pyongyang.

the united states department of justice (doj) is examining whether virgil griffith, a citizen of the united states, assisted north korea in evading sanctions via the use of financial technology in the country. this follows a rising worldwide trend among democratic countries to regulate financial activity done via cryptocurrency exchanges, which has gained momentum in recent years.

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