April 14, 2022

US citizen sentenced to more than 5 years in prison for conspiring to help DPRK evade sanctions

On April 12, 2022, Virgil Griffith, a US citizen, was sentenced in the Southern District of New York to 63 months in prison and fined $100,000 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) for conspiring to provide the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) with services that included technical advice on the use of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions. The IEEPA and Executive Order 13466 prohibit US persons from exporting any good, service or technology to the DPRK without first obtaining a license from the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.  According to court documents, Griffith never obtained OFAC’s permission to provide any services to the DPRK.

According to the complaint that was filed and unsealed in 2019, from at least August 2018 until November 2019, Griffith planned to provide cryptocurrency services to individuals in the DPRK based on his belief that North Korea could use these services to evade sanctions, fund its nuclear weapons program, and engage in other illicit activities.  The complaint also indicated that Griffith admitted to travelling through China to the DPRK in April 2019 to participate in the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, even though his request to attend the conference was denied by the State Department due to DPRK sanctions. According to court documents,  Griffith and his coconspirators also gave a presentation at the conference on topics that were pre-approved by DPRK officials, including discussions related to the use of cryptocurrency technologies to launder funds and evade sanctions to an audience that Griffith understood included individuals who were employed the DPRK government.  After the conference, Griffith also attempted to recruit other US citizens to provide similar services to the DPRK.  

Department of Justice Press Release | Complaint | Indictment | Judgment