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Blockchain is the technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Rogue nations like North Korea are exploiting cryptocurrencies to get around US sanctions – and fund their nuclear weapons programme. Griffith, 36, was investigated by the FBI for allegedly assisting North Korea to evade international sanctions and is now in custody. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York released a statement claiming Griffith provided “highly technical” information to North Korea, despite knowing it could be used to evade sanctions.
The statement read: “Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly travelled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions.”
Officials also state that Griffith formulated plans to facilitate a cryptocurrency exchange with North Korea and encouraged other American citizens to move to the country.
If convicted, Griffith could face a maximum jail term of up to 20 years.
US sanctions work by placing bans on dealings and transactions with persons, nations and companies.
These prohibitions are often enforced with the help of mainstream financial institutions.
But cryptocurrencies do not operate within this established system.
In fact, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were invented in part to sidestep the existing regulated financial system.
According to Amnesty International, North Korea is one of the most oppressive societies in the world.
Torture, forced abortions and murder are reportedly frequently committed by the state and up to 120,000 people are detained in political prison camps.
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin claimed Griffith wasn’t aiding North Korea but was simply practising “geopolitical open-mindedness”.
But prominent cryptocurrency journalist Laura Shin called North Korea “a prison masquerading as a country” and claimed that foreigners can’t directly help North Korean citizens in the public sphere.
She tweeted: “For someone who seemed to be fascinated by NK [Griffiths] seemed to have almost no understanding of it. Either that or to have a very cavalier attitude about contributing to the suffering of 25 million people.”