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Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith must face jury, NY judge rules

Ethereum researcher Virgil Griffith will have to face the jury for allegedly assisting the North Korean government to evade sanctions through digital currencies. A New York judge has denied Griffith’s motion to have the case against him dismissed.

Griffith was arrested in November 2019 upon his return to the U.S. from North Korea. He had attended a blockchain conference in the Asian country in which, as the Department of Justice alleges, he helped the regime evade sanctions using digital currencies. Since his arrest, he has been involved in a battle with the DoJ as he tries to have his case dismissed.

Griffith’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss in October 2020. The lawyers argued that the government’s case against the Ethereum developer was fatally flawed. Lawyer Brian Klein further claimed that the DoJ had failed to set forth facts that amount to a criminal offense. The information Griffith provided in North Korea is also publicly available on the internet, Klein argued.

A New York federal judge has denied the motion to dismiss, Law360 has reported. The judge ruled that the government provided enough facts in its charges to warrant a trial for Griffith. He also dismissed Griffith’s claims that he didn’t knowingly assist the North Korean government evade sanctions. He cited text messages the researcher sent to his friends which indicated he was fully aware of what he was doing. In one of these, he speculated that North Korea’s interest in digital currencies was “probably to avoid sanctions.

In another text, he stated: “We’d love to make an Ethereum trip to the DPRK and set up an Ethereum node. […] It’ll help them circumvent the current sanctions on them.”

Griffith’s trial is set to start in September 2021, as CoinGeek reported. The researcher’s legal team had until December 30, 2020, to submit in writing any opposition to the trial date.

Griffith’s current run-in with the law is perhaps no surprise, especially given his past, one in which he was severally accused of sedition. Having become a programmer at a young age, he developed WikiScanner, a tool that allows Wikipedia to verify who makes edits to its pages. The tool was meant to help Wikipedia stamp out sabotage and propaganda.

However, as the New York Times reported back in 2008, Griffith looked at it as a tool to “to create minor public-relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike.”

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