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US citizen faces almost seven years in jail for helping North Korea get into the crypto business

In brief: A Singapore-based US citizen has pleaded guilty to advising North Korea on cryptocurrencies. Virgil Griffith, an Ethereum Foundation scientist, admitted to one count of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and faces between 63 months and 78 months behind bars when sentenced on January 18.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) writes that in 2018, Griffith hatched plans to provide services to individuals in North Korea by developing and funding cryptocurrency infrastructure in the hermit kingdom. The DoJ writes that he knew this could help the country avoid US sanctions.

Griffith traveled to North Korea in 2019 to attend a crypto and blockchain conference, despite the US Department of State denying him permission to travel as it violated Treasury bans on “exporting any goods, services, or technology.”

The DoJ alleges that while there, Griffith “provided instruction on how the DPRK could use blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to launder money and evade sanctions” and “how blockchain technology such as ‘smart contracts’ could be used to benefit the DPRK, including in nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States.” He also announced plans to renounce his US citizenship, with the goal to “purchase” citizenship in another country.

It’s alleged that Griffith attempted to recruit other US citizens, who would have traveled to North Korea and provided similar crypto services. He was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in November 2019.

Griffith, who has a doctorate in theoretical neuroscience from the California Institute of Technology, pleaded guilty before his trial. Prosecutors agreed to seek a punishment in the range of 63 months to 78 months as part of the deal, helping him avoid the maximum 20-year sentence.

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