Judge Rejects Virgil Griffith’s Motion to Dismiss Charges of Aiding North Korea

The federal judge also denied the Ethereum developer’s request for more details about the charges against him.

Jan 30, 2021 at 9:32 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 11:03 a.m. UTC

Virgil Griffith’s motion to dismiss the charges against him claiming he violated U.S. sanctions law in North Korea was denied Wednesday by a judge in the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

U.S. Judge Kevin Castel denied the motion, leaving it up to a jury to decide whether Griffith is guilty of helping North Koreans circumvent U.S. economic sanctions using cryptocurrency. SDNY prosecutors allege Griffith violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by giving a speech in April  at the Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference on how to use cryptocurrency to get around U.S. sanctions. 

Griffith’s team has argued his First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution protected him and that he did not render North Korea any “services” because he received no compensation for the speech.

“The failure to allege that Griffith was paid a fee by the DPRK does not render the indictment defective,” Castel wrote. “The indictment alleges an object of the conspiracy was ‘to provide services to the DPRK.’ This is sufficient and encompasses the provision of useful labor or human effort whether or not compensation was contemplated.”

The U.S. State Department banned all U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea without express permission in 2017. According to the judge’s ruling, Griffith’s request was initially rejected by the State Department but was later granted by the DRPK UN mission in Manhattan after he sent copies of his CV, passport and explained his desire to attend the conference.

In his ruling, the judge also denied Griffith’s demand for a bill of particulars. In December 2020, Griffith’s attorneys filed documents arguing he didn’t know what exactly he had been accused of saying or doing. 

"Griffith contends that he is in the dark as to the services he is accused of providing to the DPRK,” Castel wrote. “But Griffith’s briefing to this Court makes it plain that through discovery he has learned much of the government’s evidence. He does not seek the bill of particulars simply as a means to learn facts, but to limit proof at trial. As already stated, a bill of particulars is not a discovery tool to limit the government’s evidence.”

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