A New York District Court Judge granted a $1 million bail for Virgil Griffith, an Ethereum developer accused of violating economic sanctions by providing North Korea with information that “could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.” A Magistrate Judge had denied Griffith’s bail request only days before the December 30 bail hearing.
Judge Vernon S. Broderick in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a $1 million dollar bond and allowed Griffith to use email and keep his passport card. Griffith’s father and sister provided their homes as surety for the bond.
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The United States Attorneys Office argued that Griffith had the means to leave the country and that he had already planned to renounce his U.S. citizenship. During the December 26 hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Ravener told the court how Griffith had already told his parents “he might set up a money laundering company in North Korea.” According to court documents, Griffith had also planned on launching a cryptocurrency exchange in North Korea.
An organizer conference in North Korea told Griffith to stress the “potential money laundering and sanction evasion applications” of crytpocurrency as it pertained to Griffith’s presentation.
Griffith’s attorney also told the court that the Tor Project had ended their relationship with Griffith after learning about a relationship between Griffith and Europol. Griffith also helped Swartz develop Tor2Web in 2008.
The Assistant United States Attorneys failed to convince the judge that Griffith was too much of a risk for allowing release on bail.
Judge Vernon S. Broderick granted bail. Griffith will be at his father’s house in Alabama pending a review of the house.
The following is from the “Griffith Electronic Communications” section of the criminal complaint.
Based on my participation in this investigation, I know that an or about November 12, 2019/ VIRGIL GRIFFITH, the defendant, consented in writing to a search of his cellphone (the “Cellphone”). Based on my review of an extraction of the Cellphone, I know, among other things, the following:
On or about November 26, 2018, GRIFFITH discussed his presentation with another individual (“Individual—1”) through electronic phone messages. Individual—I asked, in sum and substance, what interest North Koreans had in cryptocurrency. GRIFFITH replied, in sum and substance, “probably avoiding sanctions . . . who knows.”
Following the May Interview, on August 6, 2019, GRIFFITH sent an electronic message to a particular individual (“Individual-•2”) that stated, in sum and “I need to send 1 [unit of Cryptocurrency—I] between North and South Korea. In response, Individual—2 asked, in sum and substance,“Isn’t that violating sanctions?” GRIFFITH replied, “it is.”
Electronic messages from the Cellphone also reflect that GRIFFITH contacted at least two other United States citizens to encourage them, in sum and substance, to travel to the DPRK.