The US Department of Justice has formally charged American coder, Romanpoet, for aiding North Korea in sanction-dodging activities. The well-known computer programmer traveled to North Korea to instruct officials in the ways of blockchain and cryptocurrencies in an effort to help the country circumvent crippling US sanctions. The programmer in question, Virgil Griffith, is well known for his Wikipedia search tool creation, WikiScanner. The tool gained popularity very quickly for its ability to allow users to search and track Wikipedia edit origins.
Violation of U.S. Sanction Law
The charges brought on by the Department of Justice are connected to US sanction law, entitled International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The law states that approval must be sought from the Treasury Department prior to doing business with any country that the sanction law applies to. Griffith seems to have violated that stipulation by visiting North Korea to sell his services to the sanctioned and isolated nation.
Travel Despite Ban
Virgil Griffith attempted to obtain permission to travel to North Korea, but the U.S. Treasury Department denied Griffith’s request. In spite of the travel ban placed upon him, Griffith travelled to the DPRK and attended the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference. At the conference, Griffith is said to have given valuable information pertaining to blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies: information that would allow North Korea to effectively circumvent U.S. sanctions, as well as launder money.
According to Griffith, he was able to access the DPRK via China with a Visa purchased through a North Korean diplomatic mission. Griffith is a U.S. citizen but lives in Singapore so is familiar with methods of travel in the region. The Visa granted by the diplomatic mission was not stamped in Griffith’s passport, but given as a separate document so as to avoid detection of the trip at a later date. The nature in which Griffith gained entry to North Korea is, in part, the reason behind the conspiracy charges that have been filed.
Why Target Griffith
Virgil Griffith has enough experience and expertise in the world of blockchain development and cryptocurrencies to make his actions particularly threatening to the U.S. Treasury Department which is why such stark charges have been filed. The official charge at this time is Conspiracy to Violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and Griffith is just one of many that the Treasury Department is looking into.
If convicted, Griffith could face harsh penalties, fines and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for his actions. The United States has place economic sanctions on North Korea due to a series of troubling developments between the two countries, and the U.S. views Griffith’s actions as undercutting its own agenda. While Griffith may very well be doing just that intentionally for his own reasons, the U.S. Department of Justice seems to be taking his case to heart.