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Russian citizen suspected of laundering at least $4 billion through crypto exchange

French authorities have charged former operator of now-shuttered crypto exchange BTC-e and Russian national Alexander Vinnik – Laundering through crypto exchange.  Alexander Vinnik, the Russian-born IT specialist who spent over two years in detention in Greece, where he was arrested on a U.S. warrant, is now in Paris. The alleged BTC-e operator, suspected of laundering at least $4 billion through the now defunct crypto exchange, has been handed over to France after the Greek judiciary turned down a plea against his extradition. 

Laundering through crypto exchange

Bloomberg reported on Jan. 28 that Vinnik’s lawyers said that he will remain in France to face his charges following his recent extradition from Greece. According to an unspecified official at the prosecutor’s office, Vinnik was charged with extortion, aggravated money laundering, conspiracy and harming automatic data-processing systems.

One of his lawyers said that after his trial in France has run its course, authorities are expected to send him back to Greece so he can be extradited to the United States. After the U.S. prosecution is over, he would be finally sent to Russia. The French investigation is ongoing and no trial has been ordered. Ariane Zimra, a French lawyer for Vinnik said:

“There is no causal link between what Alexander Vinnik is being accused of and Alexander Vinnik.”

Vinnik is currently in a French hospital after going on a hunger strike for 40 days to protest his detention. Vinnik’s lawyers also recently filed a complaint that alleges a violation of his rights on behalf of his children.

Zoi Konstantopoulou, one of his lawyers, suggested that he is being persecuted because he is a blockchain genius and is seen as a threat to the banking system. He said:

“Alexander’s crime is to be Russian and a person with extraordinary technological knowledge that could liberate people economically. […] The Greek Minister of Justice has in essence decided that this person is going to spend his life being extradited, judged and then re-extradited, re-judged and yet again re-extradited and re-judged.”

Alexander Vinnik was arrested in the Greek city of Thessaloniki in July, 2017 during a family vacation. U.S. prosecutors accuse him of illegally establishing and operating the BTC-e digital asset trading platform, through which between $4 billion and $9 billion were allegedly laundered. Vinnik is also wanted in his home country for the theft of 600,000 rubles (less than $10,000) from a defrauded entity and Russia has tried to secure his extradition to Moscow.

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Vinnik is believed to be involved in the hack of Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox since the 300,000 BTC stolen there were allegedly not only laundered through BTC-e but were also on his personal wallet. Given those suspicions, the Mt. Gox trustee contacted the U.S. Department of Justice and requested information about him.

Vinnik was first indicted by the U.S. in July 2017. A Greek Court later ruled for his extradition to Russia in September 2018. In July 2018, however, local authorities ruled to extradite him to France, where he is now.

The matter of Vinnik’s extradition is a major diplomatic ordeal with multiple countries trying to obtain his extradition. Russia, for instance, filed multiple requests and asked for help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in an attempt to bring him under its jurisdiction.

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Jung Min-seo

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