Virgil Griffith, a developer who currently works with the Ethereum Foundation, has been arrested upon arrival in the US after speaking at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference in North Korea in April.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on Friday that Griffith had been arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Thanksgiving Day. The complaint against the Ethereum developer, which was made by FBI Special Agent Brandon M. Cavanaugh, alleges that he was in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act for traveling to North Korea without authorization and providing knowledge on how the country can utilize blockchain technology to launder money and evade sanctions.
“Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly traveled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions,” John Demers, an assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
Cavanaugh’s complaint alleges, “At the DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference, GRIFFITH and other attendees discussed how blockchain and cryptocurrency technology could be used by the DPRK to launder money and evade sanctions, and how the DPRK could use these technologies to achieve independence from the global banking system.” The Ethereum Association has said that it was not represented in any capacity at the events cited in the complaint against Griffith.
Taking to Twitter, Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin defended his colleague, saying it was “admirable” that he traveled to a country that has been demonized in the US and added that he didn’t believe that Griffith had provided North Korea with “any kind of real help in doing anything bad.”
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According to Griffith’s LinkedIn page, he has been employed by the Ethereum Foundation since October 2016 as a research scientist. Currently, in residence in Singapore, his most recent work has been focused on assessing whether Etehreum is compliant with Islamic Law.
Meanwhile, Ethereum’s own digital coin has seen its value drop significantly with altcoins in a sea of red in recent weeks.
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