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North Korean Crypto Conference a No-Go, Warns the UN

The UN means business, just ask Virgil Griffith


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Sanctions experts from the United Nations have warned blockchain enthusiasts against attending an upcoming cryptocurrency conference in North Korea.

Attending the Pyongyang Event Could Breach Sanctions

According to Reuters, a confidential report will be submitted to the UN Security Council warning that the event will include discussions that cover sanctions evasion and money laundering. 

The advice comes after the US government indicted Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith for his attendance at the first such event last year.

North Korea has been subject to UN sanctions since 2006, amid ongoing international concerns regarding its programs for developing nuclear and ballistic weapons. Last year, UN experts stated that the country had been using increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks as a means of bypassing the sanctions to generate an estimated $2 billion in funding for its nuclear missiles.

Cryptocurrencies are one way that North Korea raises this funding. For example, the repeated hacks on South Korean exchange Bithumb are alleged to have originated in North Korea, with a total of $65 million stolen in four separate incidents between 2017 and 2019.

UN sanctions currently require that member states ensure they aren’t contributing to the development of North Korea’s weapons program through “financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance.”

The report uncovered by Reuters makes it explicit that the UN considers attendance at the upcoming cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang a violation of these rules. 

According to experts on the sanctions in place, the previous conference “included explicit discussions of cryptocurrency for sanctions evasion and money laundering.”

An Unfortunate Example

The full contents of the report will only become clear once it is submitted to the UN Security Council later this month. 

However, the ongoing criminal case against Virgil Griffith provides some indication of what would-be attendees of the Pyongyang event can expect if they choose to flout the UN warning. 

The Ethereum developer was arrested over Thanksgiving, and subsequently released on a $1 million bond shortly before the New Year for his attendance at the last conference. He’s now awaiting trial. 

Prior to attending the event, Griffith had sought permission, which was subsequently denied. He traveled anyway, and now faces charges of conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), an offense which carries a jail term of up to 20 years. 

The allegations are that he provided sufficient technical input to “help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.”

Griffith no longer works for Ethereum, but Vitalik Buterin announced his support for his former colleague. There doesn’t appear to be many who share this view, however. 

At the time of writing, a petition for his release gathered roughly 300 signatures. 

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