Fraud and Scams

Virgil Griffith Stands-Up Against North Korea Case

  • Griffith was sanctioned for giving a talk on cryptocurrencies in North Korea last year.
  • Griffith’s lawyer claims the charge undermines his right to free speech.

Virgil Griffith, the tech guru and Ethereum advocate indicted for advocating cryptocurrency as a sanction evasion strategy in North Korea, has filed a motion to dismiss his case. In November, Griffith was arrested on the assertion that he violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by traveling to North Korea and speaking on the subject during a crypto conference. However, Griffith’s lawyer has claimed that the ruling impinges Griffith’s first and fifth amendment rights.

Griffith Traveled Through China to Avoid US Travel Ban

Griffith, who calls himself a “disruptive technologist,” attended a North Korean blockchain event in Pyongyang in April 2019, traveling via China to avoid an American travel ban. There he allegedly offered advice on how cryptocurrency could be used as an alternative form of currency to evade U.S. sanctions.

In November, Griffith was arrested at Los Angeles National Airport since when he has been fighting the case against him. This has culminated in a filing made this week by his attorneys, who state first and foremost that the charge against him is incomplete:

The prosecution of Mr. Griffith is also defective because even accepting the government’s allegations as accurate, the indictment fails to state an offense. The government’s complaint, filings, and discovery fail to set forth facts that would amount to a criminal offense.

Griffith’s attorney adds that as Griffith did not accept a fee for his appearance and traveled there at his own cost, his talk cannot be constituted as an offer of services.

Right to Free Speech

The second argument put forward states that Griffith’s first and fifth amendment rights are compromised by the charges, saying that the information contained in his talk was too unspecific to be considered damaging:

Mr. Griffith confined his alleged remarks to highly general facts in the public domain. If the speech Mr. Griffith purportedly gave is not “information,” then nothing is. For that reason, even if the alleged address did not fit within the contours of the informational exemption to IEEPA, it would be protected by the First Amendment.

Motions to dismiss against U.S authorities typically fail and are often more of a box ticking-exercise performed on the off chance they succeed. If Griffith to follow at this stage, it would represent a notable victory and impact U.S. sanctions enforcement worldwide.

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