US authorities arrested an Ethereum Foundation researcher for giving a lecture on cryptocurrencies in Pyongyang, during which he allegedly told how to use cryptocurrency to circumvent sanctions.

36-year-old Virgil Griffith, a researcher at the Ethereum Foundation, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in the United States on charges of conspiracy to violate international law on emergency economic powers. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

The Prosecutor's Office of Southern District of New York State and the FBI announced that they had arrested Griffith for violating US sanctions laws by traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea “ in order deliver a presentation and technical advice on using cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to evade sanctions.” According to US law enforcement agencies, while speaking at the conference in Pyongyang, Griffith described how North Korea can “launder money and evade sanctions.”

In April 2019, Griffith traveled to North Korea and participated in the blockchain and cryptocurrency conference in Pyongyang, despite the fact that the US State Department denied him permission to travel to the DPRK.

After the conference, Griffith “began formulating plans to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between the DPRK and South Korea, despite knowing that assisting with such an exchange would violate sanctions against the DPRK.”

“There are deliberate reasons sanctions have been levied on North Korea.  The country and its leader pose a literal threat to our national security and that of our allies... We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk.  It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., FBI assistant director-in-charge.

Griffith’s arrest caused a wave of indignation among cryptography experts. Emmanuel Goldstein, editor of the 2600 Magazine, noted that attending the conference and explaining “the concept of cryptocurrency... These are crimes now?!”

John McAfee tweeted that the US government now declares “publicly available information a national secret.”

Earlier, the UN group published a report claiming that hacker groups sponsored by the North Korean government stole about $2 billion from banks and crypto exchanges and channeled these funds into nuclear and missile weapons programs.