The crypto space is no playground, as Virgil Griffith found out. During a crypto conference in Pyongyang, Griffith reportedly shared significant details about the Ethereum platform, while also discussing the possibility to mine ETH in North Korea.
The trouble arrived when conversations surfaced of attempts to import mining rigs and graphic cards to North Korea. This broke the US embargo laws, and Griffith was taken under arrest at the beginning of December.
Brian Klein, Griffith’s lawyer, tweeted the news of the bailout:
Reportedly, the bond for his release reached $1 million, and will be released to stay at his parents’ home in Alabama.
Despite the international, borderless nature of crypto assets, embargoes still stand when it comes to deals with the North Korean regime. So far, North Korea has attempted multiple illegal avenues to acquire crypto assets, including allegations of exchange hacks, and botnet mining for Monero (XMR).
But the decision to organize a crypto conference, and invite an Ethereum developer, crossed a line that drew the attention of law enforcements.
"Laws in this country are not suggestions," said Judge Vernon Broderick of the US District Court of New York. Griffith was accused of breaking the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) for his relations and travels to North Korea.
The paradox of Griffith’s case was that crypto was shown as a tool to bypass sanctions.
In fact, it was precisely crypto-based relations which led to the sanctions. In 2019, it became clear that crypto usage and networks are not above and beyond the law. Ethereum is, in general borderless, but it is also not a token that is entirely censorship-free.
It is possible to earmark ETH tokens, and track wallets, to prevent bad actors from liquidating to international exchanges. But a regime like North Korea may still have tools to gain access to the international finance system through crypto assets.