Recently, popular Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith was arrested by the FBI for his educational efforts aimed at teaching blockchain technology in North Korea. According to our previous report, Griffith traveled there in spite of the U.S. sanctions prohibiting citizens from visiting the country, a specific note asking him to abandon his plans, and still performed activities authorities consider as jeopardizing. Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has now responded to the events, announcing support for Griffith.
Buterin took to Twitter to express his dissatisfaction at recent events, posting a six-tweet thread which began with a decisively written blog post by Enrico Talin, the CEO of blockchain firm commerc.io. In the post, Talin suggests a petition to free Griffith, describing the developer as a “fantastic person” who is a “man of peace” that has done a lot for the growth of blockchain technology. Talin also poses a very interesting question about Griffith’s efforts in North Korea:
“Can anyone give me a specific example of an information – not already public knowledge – that Virgil has passed to DPRK?”
In the next couple of tweets, Buterin specifically said even though Griffith’s trip was a personal one that had nothing to do with the Ethereum Foundation (EF) and the EF offered no assistance, Buterin would not be throwing Griffith “under the bus.” He suggests that the entire case against Griffith is predicated on the fact that many people have been trained since childhood to be close-minded about their view of North Korea, essentially dismissing the country as a “Maximum Evil Enemy.”
He then corroborates Talin’s earlier excerpted question, which bears down on the fact that Griffith’s presentation in North Korea, was based on “publicly available info about open-source software” without any form of “advanced tutoring” like authorities have suggested. Buterin adds that Griffith made no personal gain from the trip or the conference and that if there was any indication Griffith was going to do more than give a presentation, the ETH co-founder would have condemned it outrightly.
Griffith, an American citizen domiciled in Singapore, was arrested at the Los Angeles Airport and is expected to face charges that suggest a conspiracy to run afoul of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). According to U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, Griffith supposedly assisted North Korea to avoid sanctions, a crime that could keep him in prison for up to 20 years. It was said:
“As alleged, Virgil Griffith provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions. In allegedly doing so, Griffith jeopardizes the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.”
The reaction to the arrest since it was announced has been somewhat mixed. While there are many pro-blockchain people in support of Griffith because all he did was help with blockchain adoption and development, there are others who have pointed out that regardless of the noble intentions, Griffith did not have permission from the State Department to visit North Korea, as is required of all U.S. citizens.
Tolu is a cryptocurrency and blockchain enthusiast based in Lagos. He likes to demystify crypto stories to the bare basics so that anyone anywhere can understand without too much background knowledge.
When he’s not neck-deep in crypto stories, Tolu enjoys music, loves to sing and is an avid movie lover.