Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith took a plea deal after breaking sanctions against North Korea and was formally sentenced earlier today— the final chapter in a two-year journey as bizarre as it is shocking.
Journalist Ethan Lou, author of Once a Bitcoin Miner, attended the infamous event in North Korea at which Griffith spoke. He was asked to submit a statement for Griffith’s sentencing, although that statement was ultimately not filed with the court. Here he tells the inside story of what happened.
Pyongyang, April 18, 2019
Virgil Griffith had been on North Korean soil for only a few hours when he casually told fellow travelers and their local guides that his trip was unsanctioned. Unique in the world, the United States bans its citizens from going to North Korea without explicit permission.
Griffith, an American in Singapore working for the Ethereum Foundation, had sought such permission unsuccessfully, he recounted at the round dinner table at Pyongyang’s riverside Pothonggang Hotel. Griffith had made his case the best he could on why he should go to that Pyongyang cryptocurrency conference in 2019 but was denied. And so, he decided to go anyway, he told people at the table.
An image submitted by prosecutors in a New York court shows Virgil Griffith explaining cryptocurrency in North Korea in April 2019. The words “No Sanctions!” are highlighted in a detail box. Source: U.S. Department of Justice
Up and at them
Four days later, in a building shaped like an atom, Griffith told a crowd of North Koreans how they could harness blockchain in negotiations with the United States. At the time, bilateral talks had been bogged down by the question of which measure should be unwound first: the United States’ economic sanctions or North Korea’s nuclear program.
Griffith said both could happen simultaneously through a smart contract tied to a North Korean missile.
“If all the news reports say that sanctions on North Korea have been lifted, the missile will deactivate.”
Then, when explaining how smart…