Ethereum Developer to Be Released Following Arrest for Visit to North Korea

By Landon Manning

Per an announcement from his lawyer, recently-arrested Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith will be released from prison following a visit to North Korea, though the case against him will be tried in court in the near future.

On November 29, 2019, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Griffith had been arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport the previous day, after getting off of a flight from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly known as North Korea. As U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman claimed in the announcement, Griffith’s brief seminar on blockchain technology to a North Korean audience “jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.” 

Following the arrest, much of the blockchain community responded in support of Griffith. For instance, Ethereum’s founder Vitalik Buterin, who is a personal friend of Griffith’s, turned to Twitter to publicly voice his support for the developer and circulate a petition demanding his release.

In addition to appealing to the notion that cryptocurrency and blockchain technology foster a worldwide community that transcends borders and international sanctions, Buterin stated that Griffith’s presentation was “based on publicly available info about open-source software,” and that “there was no weird hackery ‘advanced tutoring’” involved. Conference attendees from other western countries have claimed that not only were all attendees expressly forbidden from talking about political issues such as U.S. sanctions, but that several North Korean officials were actually sleeping during the talks.

“Geopolitical open-mindedness is a *virtue*,” Buterin wrote. “It's *admirable* to go to a group of people that one has been trained since childhood to believe is a Maximum Evil Enemy, and hear out what they have to say. The world would be better if more people on all sides did that.”

But it shouldn’t be too surprising that the U.S. appears wary of the possibilities for crypto assets and distributed ledger technology to disrupt its program of sanctions. U.S.-sanctioned countries around the world have been explicitly experimenting with cryptocurrencies to avoid economic and diplomatic pressure. 

Still, this latest announcement is a positive development for Griffith, at least relatively speaking. His lawyer, Brian Klein, announced on December 2, 2019, that the judge presiding over the case has allowed Griffith to be released until the date of his actual trial, without any mention of a requirement to pay bail. With Klein claiming that Griffith “looks forward to his day in court,” a successful defense could very well prove a key precedent for the future of the international cryptocurrency community.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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