An American blockchain researcher formally indicted earlier this year on accusations that he conspired to violate U.S. sanctions on North Korea pled not guilty in a New York court on Thursday.
Virgil Griffith was arrested last November, charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by delivering a lecture on cryptocurrency at a conference in Pyongyang, as well as subsequently conspiring with others to further assist the DPRK in skirting sanctions.
A complaint issued by the U.S. Department of Justice at the time said that Griffith had “provided highly technical information to North Korea” and alleged he had been aware that that technology could be used by the DPRK government to avoid sanctions.
Griffith was, according to the U.S. government, asked by one of the conference organizers to specifically emphasize the “potential money laundering and sanction evasion applications” in his talks, titled “Blockchain and Peace.”
“In allegedly doing so, Griffith jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said at the time of his arrest.
Court documents released earlier in the month also stated that one of his alleged accomplices was expected to be arrested soon.
His legal team has consistently argued that he is innocent of the charges, under which he could face up to 20 years in jail.
“Virgil should not have been indicted,” his lawyer, Brian Klein, told press in an emailed statement earlier this month. “We are going to vigorously contest the charge and look forward to getting all the facts in front of the jury at trial.”
Reports Thursday said that Klein had asked the U.S. government to make available any interviews conducted with other attendees at last April’s cryptocurrency conference, a request Assistant U.S Attorney Michael Krouse said he would comply with.
“We anticipate these other attendees will exonerate our client,” Klein said.
Notably among the organizers of the April conference were members of the pro-DPRK Korean Friendship Association (KFA), a representative of which during promotions for that event last year had said that U.S. citizens “will be approved” should they want to participate — an approval Griffith did not obtain before traveling to North Korea.
But Griffith appears to have been unaware of the risks involved in skirting tough U.S. laws on North Korea, even going so far as to share a photo of his DPRK visa on social media.
His case has prompted a wave of debate within the cryptocurrency community, with some of his colleagues protesting his arrest and defending the “Blockchain and Peace” lecture on the grounds of free speech.
His next hearing is set to be held on March 17.
Edited by James Fretwell