- The community behind cryptocurrency Ethereum is in chaos after one of its members allegedly visited North Korea and gave a technical talk, and was then arrested and charged with helping the country evade sanctions.
- Virgil Griffith works for the Ethereum Foundation, and was charged on Friday with violating US sanctions on North Korea by giving a talk at a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang.
- Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin defended Griffith, and said he hoped the USA “shows strength rather than weakness and focuses on genuine and harmful corruption.”
- UN experts have said North Korean hackers steal huge amounts of cryptocurrency to fund state activities.
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The cryptocurrency community is up in arms after the arrest of an expert who was accused of helping North Korea evade US sanctions.
Virgil Griffith works at the Ethereum Foundation, a cryptocurrency that rivals bitcoin. He was accused by federal prosecutors on Friday of giving a talk at a cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang, North Korea, and handing over technical information.
US laws prevent American citizens from providing goods or services to North Korea. According to a statement from prosecutors, Griffith and other conference attendees discussed how North Korea could use blockchain and cryptocurrencies to get around US sanctions.
Taking to Twitter on Sunday, Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin defended his colleague and said he refused to throw Griffith under the bus for his alleged actions. Buterin added that Ethereum Foundation didn’t pay for Griffith’s trip to North Korea.
“Geopolitical open-mindedness is a *virtue*” Buterin wrote. “It’s *admirable* to go to a group of people that one has been trained since childhood to believe is a Maximum Evil Enemy, and hear out what they have to say. The world would be better if more people on all sides did that.”
He added: “I don’t think what Virgil did gave DRPK any kind of real help in doing anything bad. He *delivered a presentation based on publicly available info about open-source software*. There was no weird hackery “advanced tutoring.”
Griffith was charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, according to the criminal complaint, and could face up to 20 years in prison.
The 36-year-old, who was described an an “internet man of mystery” in 2008 by the New York Times, is also said to have attended the April conference in Pyongyang without government permission to do so.
Buterin was staunch in his defence of Griffith, however, posting a chain of six tweets.
—vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) December 1, 2019
His final tweet read: “I hope USA shows strength rather than weakness and focuses on genuine and harmful corruption that it and all countries struggle with rather than going after programmers delivering speeches parroting public information.”
North Korea is widely believed to be at the centre of several major cryptocurrency hacks, and for using its gains to fund state activities. A leaked UN report, reported by Reuters in August, said North Korean hackers stole $2 billion from banks and cryptocurrencies at leader Kim Jong Un’s behest in order to fund the development of nuclear weapons.
Buterin is not the only senior tech figure to have defended Griffith, with the editor of hacking-focused 2600 magazine Emmanuel Goldstein tweeting, with apparent incredulity, that “attending a conference” and explaining the concept of cryptocurrency “are crimes now?!”