Former Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith (39) has been sentenced to 63 months in prison and a $100,000 fine for his aid to North Korea. In September, Griffith pleaded guilty to violating international sanctions against North Korea. Against the rules, Griffith gave a presentation at a crypto conference in Pyongyang in April 2019.
According to the FBI, Griffith helped the regime of dictator Kim Jong-un evade Western economic sanctions, allowing the country to develop nuclear missiles to threaten the world.
The crime carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, but Griffith managed to turn his original sentence of 78 down to 63 in a deal with federal prosecutors. This means a prison sentence of 5 to 6.5 years. However, Griffith has already spent two years in custody, of which he was released on bail for 14 months. The remaining 10 months already count towards his sentence.
Defence asks for leniency
Before hearing the judge’s final verdict, Griffith was given the chance to make one final objection or comment. Griffith exchanged a few glances with his parents and friends in the courtroom, whereupon his lawyer began with a request for leniency. In legal terms, a request for leniency means a request for a less severe sentence.
Brian Klein, Griffith’s lead attorney, asked Judge Castel to consider factors that he said were not included in the final verdict. Specifically, the harsh conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, where Griffith is being held.
Klein described various difficult and inhumane conditions in his speech. For example, the fact that during the COVID-19 outbreaks, there was no possibility for family to visit. He faced limited access to blankets and warm clothing, and Griffith was even forced to use his sink as a toilet. Further, Griffith was limited to two or fewer meals a day. Meals mainly consisted of bread with peanut butter and jelly. This is because the gangs in the MDC control the kitchen.
“I learned my lesson”
Attorney Klein also informed the judge about a recent psychological examination that Griffith underwent, during which two personality disorders have come to light. These are Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). According to Griffith’s defence, this explains his “obsession” with North Korea and the fact that he went that way against the advice of family and friends.
Klein further stated that Griffith is fully committed to his therapy and that his psychiatrist has labelled him “treatable”. Griffith himself spoke of his time in prison as a period of reflection, in which he acknowledged his selfishness. “I’ve learned my lesson,” said Griffith.
The federal judge couldn’t agree with his statement. On Tuesday, he ruled that Griffith would face 63 months in prison and a $100,000 fine for his crime. He said Griffith had no good intentions and instead showed “a desire to educate people on how to avoid sanctions.”
The judge justified the need for the harsh sentence by referring to the war in Ukraine and the US sanctions against Russia. The jail sentence “will deter others in a similar situation,” the judge said.
Assisting North Korea to evade sanctions
The judge was not at all convinced by lawyer Klein’s story and Griffith’s own words. Castel then began reading a series of text messages and emails in which Griffith admits he is sharing information with North Korea to help the Kim regime evade sanctions.
What the judge most disliked was that during the conference in North Korea, Griffith wore a traditional North Korean suit and stood in front of a blackboard that read “No sanctions!”. According to the judge, tough action, in this case, is important to deter other sanctioned countries from relying on the methods Griffith has.
$1.5 billion in crypto
North Korean hackers have already managed to steal large sums of cryptocurrencies several times. Last year, they would have stolen a total of $395 million. Over the past five years, the country has acquired $1.5 billion in cryptos, according to blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis.
Russia could use cryptos to evade Western sanctions, according to ECB President Christine Lagarde. Although several crypto crime experts contradict that.