A French court sentenced Alexander Vinnik, the operator of the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e, to 5 years’ imprisonment.
BTC-e operator behind bars
A court of appeal in Paris upheld a five-year prison sentence in a case against BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik. It is about the judgment from December 2020, declaring Vinnik guilty of money laundering and acting as part of an organized criminal group. In addition, he provided false information about the origin of his income.
A Paris court rejected several requests by Vinnik’s defense lawyers, including a request to examine copies of evidence provided by the FBI. However, the court released Vinnik from a € 100,000 fine originally awarded in a December judgment.
Vinnik was originally charged with defrauding nearly 200 people using ransomware, but in December a court cleared him of allegations of this type of malware attack. As reported by the Russian state news service TAAS, the prosecution also demanded a smaller fine, expressing doubts as to whether Vinnik would be able to pay anything to the victims of his crimes at all.
The defenders now plan to file a cassation appeal. They are to do so within five days, as required by French law.
The Odyssey of a Criminal
Vinnik, a Russian computer scientist and former BTC-e operator, was originally detained while on vacation in Greece in July 2017, at the request of the United States. The US is accusing him of wiping out over $ 4 billion while servicing the defunct BTC-e exchange.
In January 2020, Vinnik was released to the French authorities, where in December he was sentenced to five years in prison. His lawyer, Frédéric Bélot, is concerned that the Greek authorities may want him to be sent back to Greece after his judgment. Then – as part of extradition – he would go to the United States. There he would face a new trial on similar allegations.
It is worth adding that Russia also applied for the extradition of its citizen, citing humanitarian reasons. After Vinnik started his hunger strike in Greece in November 2018, Russian human rights spokeswoman Tatiana Moskalkova asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for help to ensure Vinnik’s return to Russia. At that time, she emphasized his deteriorating health. Added to this was his wife’s illness.
The media suggested that Russia’s request for extradition could be motivated by something else entirely. It has been suggested that Russian intelligence agencies may have used BTCs to obtain Bitcoins for covert operations.
In the event of extradition to Russia, Vinnik would face lighter accusations regarding “computer information fraud ”.