Ethereum dev must face jury for allegedly helping North Korea evade sanctions

Ethereum dev must face jury for allegedly helping North Korea evade sanctions

Virgil Griffith, a crypto developer accused of helping North Korea evade sanctions through speaking at a Pyongyang crypto conference in 2019, must now face a jury.

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A New York federal judge has denied an Ethereum developer’s motion to dismiss criminal charges over allegations he assisted the North Korean regime to bypass U.S. sanctions.

The developer and former-hacker, Virgil Griffith, is accused of helping North Korea evade economic sanctions by delivering a speech during a Pyongyang blockchain conference in April 2019.

Law360 reported that in his motion, Griffith had claimed the speech he delivered at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference was protected by his First Amendment right to free speech.

Griffith also requested a bill of particulars, claiming he was unable to prepare for the hearing as the four-page indictment against him was “short and vague,” and lacked specific detail outlining his criminal conduct. However, the judge also rejected this request, finding that “adequate notice of the charges against Griffith” had been provided.

The judge cited text messages Griffith allegedly sent to colleagues during the lead up to the conference, stating:

“We’d love to make an Ethereum trip to the DPRK and set up an Ethereum node […] It’ll help them circumvent the current sanctions on them.”

Another message apparently noted that while Griffith did not know exactly what the purpose of the North Korean administration’s interest in crypto assets was, he speculated it was “probably avoiding sanctions.”

Griffith’s fate must now be determined by a jury.

In January 2019, the U.S. state department denied Griffith’s request to travel to the North Korean capital to discuss “the applications of blockchain technology to business and anti-corruption.”

Despite the rejection, Griffith successfully sought approval from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s UN Mission in Manhattan, and was issued a visa one month later.

The Department of Justice announced Griffith’s arrest on Nov. 29, 2019, with U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman alleging that Griffith “provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.”

A January 2020 indictment charged Griffith with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by seeking to provide “services” to North Korea.

While Griffith has claimed his speech was protected by the act’s “information exemption” — characterizing the presentation as delivering “information that one could readily learn from a Google search” — the prosecution claims the speech could empower Kim Jong Un’s administration to evade sanctions and launder money.

The judge also noted that the fact Griffith did not receive financial remuneration for the speech may not impact the jury’s ruling, stating:

“Even if Griffith’s presentation at the conference, taken in isolation, did not qualify as the provision of services, or was exempt under the information exception, evidence at trial may be sufficient to demonstrate his guilt in conspiring to provide services.”

Zur Quelle

Virgil Griffith, a crypto developer accused of helping North Korea evade sanctions through speaking at a Pyongyang crypto conference in 2019, must now face a jury.

Crypto mining allegedly worsening air pollution in Iran

Crypto mining allegedly worsening air pollution in Iran

Mining for Bitcoin may be contributing to “thick layers of toxic smog” and blackouts across many Iranian cities.

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The push by many in Iran to establish the country as a mecca for crypto miners may be having some unintended environmental consequences. 

According to a Bloomberg report, the energy requirements of Bitcoin (BTC) and crypto mining in Iran coupled with the demand for heat in an exceptionally cold winter have contributed to a natural gas shortage, forcing power plants to allegedly burn „low-grade fuel oils“ to meet the country’s electrical needs. The result has been „thick layers of toxic smog“ across many Iranian cities and blackouts as some power plants have closed.

Iran is already facing economic burdens as U.S. sanctions have isolated the country from foreign financial institutions, a dire situation with the global pandemic — roughly 1.3 million total cases of COVID-19 — and now a winter with average temperatures just above freezing at night in Tehran.

Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, Iran’s Oil Minister, reportedly denied that any power plants in the country were resorting to using inferior fuels. However, major news outlets have commented on the seemingly worsening situation with air pollution in Tehran — according to IQAir, the city’s air quality registers as “unhealthy” with an air quality index of 171 at the time of publication.

Last January, Iran’s Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade announced it had issued 1,000 licenses for crypto miners following the government’s decision to authorize it as an approved industrial activity in July 2019. Authorities later allowed industrial-scale power plants in the country to operate as Bitcoin miners „if they comply with approved tariffs,“ have the necessary licenses, and don’t use subsidized fuel.

Some Iranian officials have continued to work towards making the country a regulatory safe haven for crypto miners. In May, President Hassan Rouhani tasked officials with drafting plans for a national crypto mining strategy. The number of mining operations in the country expanded significantly in 2020, with authorities granting Turkish firm iMiner permission to establish a 6,000-rig facility in Iran’s Semnan province.