Ethereum researcher Virgil Griffith has pleaded guilty at the start of his trial in the Southern District of New York.
Griffith was formally indicted for allegedly giving a talk in North Korea on blockchain and cryptocurrencies, violating U.S. sanctions laws. At the time, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Griffith allegedly "provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions."
Griffith was charged with conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economy Powers Act, facing a maximum of 20 years in prison. However, Griffith took a plea deal today with a maximum of 6.5 years in prison, according to journalist Ethan Lou, who spent time with Griffith in North Korea and attended today's hearing.
The guilty plea itself came the first day of Griffith's trial in New York began and jury selection was expected to start. "Virgil was quite emotional. Deep sighs sometimes when he spoke. Unclear what new development caused this guilty plea. The paperwork was signed only yesterday. One possible reason is the barring of the remote testimony of an Ethereum Foundation lawyer," Lou tweeted from the courthouse.
“As he admitted in court today, Virgil Griffith agreed to help one of our nation’s most dangerous foreign adversaries, North Korea. Griffith worked with others to provide cryptocurrency services to North Korea and assist North Korea in evading sanctions, and traveled to North Korea to do so," U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. "In the process, Griffith jeopardized the national security of the United States by undermining the sanctions that both Congress and the President have enacted to place maximum pressure on the threat posed by North Korea’s treacherous regime.”
Griffith will be sentenced on January 18 of next year.
This story has been updated with new information. Also corrects the sentencing date from January 13 to January 18, per a DOJ release.