Virgil Griffith, the Ethereum developer who got in trouble with the United States government for his participation in a North Korean conference, has suffered a setback in his defense.
This week, a court denied Griffith’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges against him. This means his case heads to trial, where he would face a jury.
No Way Out of This One
Griffith is a former developer for the Ethereum Foundation accused of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea by speaking at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took the 37-year-old into custody in November 2019, after he had made a presentation at a conference in North Korea months earlier.
Prosecutors alleged that Griffith had rendered services to the North Korean government at the conference. Among other things, they argued that he provided valuable information that would allow the country’s officials to use blockchain to evade sanctions possibly.
The Unusual Motion to Dismiss
He eventually filed a motion to dismiss last October, contending that his presentation consisted entirely of “highly general speech based on publicly available information. Griffith argued that he didn’t get any payment for his attendance and that he wasn’t under any contract as a consultant. So, he couldn’t have provided a “service” to the Koreh Korean government.
The developer also argued that the First Amendment protected his speech from prohibition by the U.S. government and that his speech fell under an exemption in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act for the sharing of “information” and “information materials.”
Replying, federal prosecutors argued that Griffith’s premise was absurd. They pointed out that the developer knew about North Korea’s plans to evade sanctions with blockchain, as he texted a friend and stated that he planned to make a 1 ETH transfer “between North and South Korea,” even though he knew it would violate sanctions.
The judge eventually sided with the government, citing text messages where Griffith explicitly claimed that he was looking to set up an ETH node in North Korea to help the government evade sanctions.
The court already set a tentative court date for September 2021. Griffith has enough time to lawyer up and get ready.