The cryptocurrency community at large was shocked last week when the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York revealed that it had arrested Virgil Griffith, an Ethereum Foundation researcher and prominent member of the blockchain space.
The State Attorney accused the individual of violating the “International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) by traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK” or “North Korea”) in order to deliver a presentation… [on how to use technology] to evade sanctions.”
Why this relates to cryptocurrency is that Griffith’s presentation was regarding blockchain and was made at a state-sponsored cryptocurrency event. U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman went as far as to say that Griffith provided North Koreans with “highly technical information.”
Also, Griffith, a government press release indicates, was purportedly denied entry to North Korea by the U.S. Department of State and did not gain approval to present at the event, which itself violates the sanction.
Attendee of North Korean Crypto Conference Defends Griffith
Many are on the side of the government, citing the fact that aiding North Korea would just be perpetuating a dangerous regime. Though, some have come to the individual’s defense. Fabio Pietrosanti, an attendee of the aforementioned Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference that Griffith went to, told CoinDesk that at the event, sanctions “were not a topic at all.”
Pietrosanti added that discussions around sanctions in such a setting would have been foolish, adding that it is de-facto law between tourists to the nation that you shouldn’t “talk about any political topic.”
He even quipped that the conference was really just a “boring two days,” citing the fact that the information discussed at the unorthodox event was “basic Google-level knowledge,” contradicting the statement of the State Attorney.
Others have also taken to media and Twitter to defend Griffith. Individuals like Roger Ver (who went as far as to hashtag his comment with “FreeVirgil”) and John McAfee, who are both libertarians, wrote on Twitter that the recent arrests are a clear example of governments overreaching with their power; others, namely in Ethereum circles, claimed that Griffith’s seemingly premise to attending the event was to create peace and dialogue rather than to allow the North Korean regime to bypass economic sanctions, the charge on which the U.S. authorities detained him.
— Roger Ver (@rogerkver) November 30, 2019
Represented By the Best
While the U.S. hasn’t budged in its assertion that Griffith broke the law when attending the event, the Ethereum community member recently got some legal support from Brian Klein of Baker Marquart. Klein wrote in a tweet announcing his representation of the developer: “We dispute the untested allegations in the criminal complaint, and Virgil looks forward to his day in court, when the full story can come out.”
I now represent Virgil Griffith and am very pleased that today the judge found that he should be released from jail pending trial. We dispute the untested allegations in the criminal complaint, and Virgil looks forward to his day in court, when the full story can come out.
— Brian Klein (@brianeklein) December 3, 2019
This name, Brian Klein, may sound familiar. Why? Well, Klein was the individual representing Block.one, an international blockchain firm behind the EOS token sale, when it had to settle with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of the U.S. earlier this year for facilitating an unregistered ICO sale. Block.one was fined $24 million by the SEC for the sale.
Due to this seemingly small settlement compared to EOS’ market capitalization of $2.6 billion now and the $4 billion raised by Block.one, many have dubbed Klein one of the best lawyers in the cryptocurrency business.
With some saying that Griffith’s case could set a legal precedent for future proceedings regarding cryptocurrencies and blockchain on the geopolitical stage, some say that a win, or at least some concession on the States’ end, could be important for the industry’s development moving forward.
The lawyer who repped EOS in their SEC settlement (widely deemed a huge win) now repping Virgil Griffith https://t.co/eitSqRM6YN
— Rob "Crypto Bobby" Paone (@crypto_bobby) December 3, 2019