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Alleged BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik in US Custody After Immediate Extradition From Greece

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Russian IT professional Alexander Vinnik, accused of owning and operating the infamous BTC-e crypto exchange, was handed over to the US This week, Greek authorities proceeded to extradite him after his return from France, despite Vinnik’s defense protesting the move and calling for a case represents a “judicial, diplomatic and humanitarian scandal”.

Vinnik appeared in San Francisco Federal Court on charges of money laundering

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The alleged co-founder and operator of the infamous BTC-e crypto exchange Alexander Vinnik was extradited from Greece to the US on Thursday. A Russian citizen has been charged in the Northern District of California and has already appeared in federal court in San Francisco, the US Justice Department said Friday. Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polit, Jr. of the department’s Criminal Division stated:

After more than five years of litigation, Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik was extradited to the United States yesterday to face charges for the activities of BTC-e, a criminal cryptocurrency exchange that laundered more than $4 billion in criminal proceeds.

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Vinnik, 42, was arrested while on holiday in the Greek city of Thessaloniki in the summer of 2017 on a US warrant. In January of that year, U.S. prosecutors indicted him in a 21-count superseding indictment. Greece granted an extradition request filed by the United States but first sent him to France in December 2019 under a European arrest warrant.

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A French court sentenced a Russian crypto-entrepreneur to five years in prison for money laundering, and he recently served his sentence with pre-trial detention. In France, he was also charged with identity theft and extortion. In July, US authorities withdrew a request to receive the Russian directly from France in an apparent attempt to expedite his transfer through Greece, which had already approved his extradition to the US.

According to the US indictment, the now defunct BTC-e was “a significant cybercrime and money laundering organization on the Internet that allowed its users to trade bitcoin with a high level of anonymity and created a customer base heavily dependent on criminal activity.” It alleges that the exchange has facilitated global cybercrime transactions, profiting from a wide range of crimes such as the Mt Gox hack, ransomware scams, and even drug dealing.

BTC-e and Vinnik were charged with one count of an unlicensed U.S. money service business and one count of conspiracy to launder money. The Russian also faces 17 counts of money laundering and two counts of illegal money transactions. The Justice Department noted that its platform did not have a “know your customer” verification system and an anti-money laundering program, as required by federal law.

Russia, Lawyer Brand Vinnik US Extradition “Kidnapping” and “Enforced Disappearance”

Speaking to the Russian news agency TASS, Vinnik’s French lawyer, Frederic Belo, confirmed that his defendant was transferred to US custody upon his return from France following a ruling by the Paris Court of Appeal’s Chamber of Investigation Thursday morning. “He was immediately transferred to another plane that flew to the United States. The plane landed in Boston and then flew to San Francisco,” Belote explained.

“Alexander Vinnik, who should be at large according to three decisions of French justice, was transferred yesterday as a prisoner to Greece and there he was literally “loaded” on a private plane to the United States, not allowing, as he asked and is still asking for asylum in order to have access to translator, to me as his lawyer,” said Zoe Konstantinopoulou, who represented him in Greece and France, quotes the Greek newspaper Ethnos.

Alleged BTC-e operator Aleksandr Vinnik is in US custody following immediate extradition from Greece

Konstantinopoulou recently shared her fears that the Russian would be held by the US as a “hostage” in the ongoing military conflict in NATO-backed Ukraine, where Moscow has been waging a full-scale war since late February, touted as a “special military operation.” in defense of the Russian-speaking population. Western governments chose to ignore Russia’s own requests for Vinnik’s extradition.

The IT expert, who denied the US accusations and declared his innocence, had previously expressed a desire to return to his homeland and stand trial there. In Russia, he is charged with embezzlement of more than 600,000 rubles (about $10,000) and “fraud in the field of computer information” for 750 million rubles ($12.3 million).

While the US Department of Justice thanked the Greek government and the Department of Justice “for all their efforts to ensure the transfer of the defendant to the United States”, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova declared that Moscow was “outraged by the unfriendly actions of the Greek authorities” and accused Washington of conducting “a real hunt for Russian citizens”, calling Vinnik’s hasty extradition “kidnapping”. Although not mentioned in the DOJ statement, the BTC-e owner is also suspected of collaborating with Russian intelligence.

In her comments, Zoya Konstantinopoulou described the case as a multi-year “judicial, diplomatic, intergovernmental scandal”, and called his extradition “an enforced disappearance from the territory of Greece”, which “represents a method of the mafia and a criminal act … a violation of international law and Greek law”, committed with the participation of two foreign states. Vinnik asked for asylum in Greece, and his defense team also tried to secure humanitarian release. His wife died in 2020 and now their two sons are growing up without parents.

What are your expectations from the trial of Alexander Vinnik in the USA? Tell us in the comments section below.

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