Lawyers representing the United States government have filed a legal note opposing the dismissal of charges against Virgil Griffith, a former Ethereum Foundation researcher accused of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK.
According to court records filed on Nov. 19 in the Southern District of New York, prosecutors cited Griffith’s Oct. 22 argument to dismiss the charges against him as “unsuccessful.” The legal team alleges that the former Ethereum Foundation researcher provided a service to the DPRK using an analogy of a US citizen providing nuclear secrets to reclusive nation scientists:
“A mere hypothetical exposes the absurdity of Griffith’s position. By Griffith’s logic, the [North Korea Sanctions Regulations] would allow an American physicist to travel to the DPRK and explain the science behind nuclear weapons at a conference of North Korean physicists, provided the science can be found on the internet, he receives no fees, and the regime wishes to build nuclear weapons was not economic in nature. “
The U.S. District Court indicted Griffith in January with conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act following a presentation he made to a North Korean conference in April. The speech contained information that North Korean agents could use to circumvent economic sanctions using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
Federal authorities say Griffith knew the DPRK was specifically interested in methods to circumvent sanctions using blockchain. They claim Griffith texted an associate, saying he planned to facilitate the 1 Ether (ETH) transaction “between North Korea and South Korea” knowing it would violate sanctions.
Griffith argued that his presentation was a “very general speech based on publicly available information”, that he had not received any fees for his participation and that the speech had no “economic utility”. Therefore, he claims that the charges are baseless and that the speech is protected under the First Amendment.
However, the legal note says Griffith admitted to “pitching concepts” on crypto and blockchain to conference attendees during his talks with the Federal Bureau of Investigations last May and November, and some North Koreans are likely left with a better understanding of how to use technology to circumvent sanctions.
The case against Griffith is ongoing. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is currently free of a million dollars bond.