American prosecutors have told a court that the Ethereum Foundation, the body that governs the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain network, “initially indulged” the foundation’s Virgil Griffith – the man whom the FBI says “illegally engaged” with North Korea in 2019.
Griffith, a senior executive at the foundation, pleaded guilty to the FBI’s charges of sanctions-related violations at a hearing last year and could face several years in prison at a sentencing hearing slated to be held in April. His defense lawyers have asked for a two-year term – including time already served in custody.
But in the latest hearing on the case, the Financial Post reported, court filings suggested “there was direct communication between” the Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin and Griffith on the matter, although Buterin was “not identified by name” in the prosecution’s allegations.
In its latest filing, the prosecution allegedly claimed that Griffith had attempted to set up an Ethereum node in North Korea before he visited the country in a 2019 trip to speak at a state-run blockchain conference.
The prosecution claimed that running a node from North Korea was illegal, as it would allow Pyongyang to evade sanctions – which would not prove effective against any country if they were not “fully enforced.”
But the prosecution suggested that dialog on setting up a node had been going on between Griffith and the foundation as early as April 2018, when the former allegedly asked the latter “if we’d directly do this.” The foundation allegedly responded that sanctions mean that only “doing so through an intermediary is possible.”
Griffith then allegedly put himself forward as an “individual” supporter until a suitable intermediary could be “figured out.”
But the most damning allegations about Buterin appear to show that Griffith had held direct conversations with the former about Griffith’s North Korea plan – although Buterin was named in the filing only as “Individual-1.” This “individual” – named as a “co-founder of the Ethereum Foundation and Griffith’s ultimate boss,” “appears to have discouraged Griffith from proceeding with the node,” the filing outlined.
Regardless, Griffith allegedly continued to speak to Buterin about the matter – and the former even allegedly text messaged Buterin “to say the North Koreans were interested in an aspect of Ethereum and that it ‘could be high visibility work.’”
There does not appear to be any evidence from the prosecution suggesting that Buterin actively encouraged Griffith. In fact, most of the evidence presented appears to show Buterin was skeptical about Griffith’s efforts and had warned that they were “risky.”
Griffith, however, allegedly continued to make suggestions about “specific proposals to design blockchain services” for North Korea.
The media outlet noted:
“It’s unclear whether Griffith was talking to Individual-1 specifically about Ethereum Foundation work. Buterin was both Griffith’s superior and a personal friend.”
However, the prosecution added that Individual-1 had sent a letter to the court to support Griffith, but had failed to make a “reference to” the fact that he had spoken to Griffith about North Korea’s alleged Ethereum interests in the document.
The Ethereum Foundation has previously stated that it “neither approved nor supported any such travel” on Griffith’s part, calling the trip “a personal matter.”
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