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Virgil Griffith Still Doesn’t Know What Exact Crimes He Is Accused of, Attorneys Say

Attorneys for Virgil Griffith want the U.S. government to specify the charges he’s facing rather than a broad claim that he violated U.S. sanctions.

Dec 11, 2020 at 1:23 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:41 a.m. UTC

Attorneys for Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith filed documents over the past week arguing he and they still don’t know exactly what he is being accused of doing.

Griffith, who was accused last year of violating U.S. sanctions law by traveling to North Korea and teaching locals how to transfer funds using cryptocurrency, has yet to receive a list of actual crimes for which he is being indicted, according to a Dec. 8 document published to the federal court system. 

“The defense should not be forced to use a decoder ring on over 6,800 pages of discovery – much of which has been heavily redacted by the government – to discern the basic information that should be present in every indictment: what crimes were actually alleged to have been committed, by whom and where,” the document read. 

Attorneys not involved in the case told CoinDesk in January that while prosecutors claim Griffith violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, at the time they hadn’t revealed what specifically he was accused of saying or doing. 

According to one of Tuesday’s filings, this information is still unavailable. The document said Griffith is requesting “particulars” about what services he allegedly provided, who else was involved and how these services violated U.S. law. 

Griffith’s attorney, Brian Klein, asked a federal judge to compel prosecutors to reveal details and evidence during a hearing in January. At the time prosecutors said they would comply with federal production requirements.

Legal rights

Griffith’s team further argued Tuesday that first amendment rights protected the Ethereum Foundation coder against government action. Repeating their long-standing argument that Griffith received no payment for his North Korea speech and therefore rendered no “services,” they said Griffith was well within his constitutional rights.

“To argue that he did, the government has to twist basic words beyond their common meanings,” the filing said.

The U.S. State Department banned all U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea without express permission in 2017.

The argument was made in support of a motion to dismiss filed last month

Moreover, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) had a much greater role in the investigation leading up to Griffith’s 2019 arrest than had been initially disclosed, a third filing said

FBI agents were discussing the case with OFAC employees at least as early as October 2019, well before the previously disclosed timeline of November 2019, according to the filing. 

“The exact nature of OFAC’s expressed concerns are identical to the issues at stake here: namely, whether Mr. Griffith’s presentation falls under the informational exemption under the Berman Amendment and the FTIA and whether the giving of an oral presentation constitutes a ‘service’ in the context of a conference,” the filing said.

Information in the public domain is generally exempt from IEEPA restrictions.

As such, the filing says, even if Griffith provided any information that falls under OFAC’s “services” bucket, it should still fall within that public domain exemption that is protected by the First Amendment.

DISCLOSURE

The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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