Greek Court Supports Extradition of Former BTC-E Operator Alexander Vinnik
A Greek court has ruled in favor of extraditing the alleged former operator of BTC-e, Alexander Vinnik, to the United States. Vinnik was arrested by authorities late July 2017, and stands accused of masterminding a $4 billion money-laundering ring through the cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e.
The Russian is accused of providing money laundering services and facilitating a wide range of crimes dating back to 2011, including drug trafficking and computer hacking. Vinnik denies having been the former operator of BTC-e, instead claiming that he only worked as a “technical consultant” for the cryptocurrency exchange. Vinnik is also accused of having profited from the Mt. Gox hack, with U.S. authorities claiming that Vinnik “obtained” funds that had been stolen from Mt. Gox, before laundering them via BTC-e and Tradehill.
Russia has also submitted an extradition request for Vinnik, who there would be subject to more lenient charges of fraud. Although Alexander Vinnik also denies accusations of fraud, he has consented to Russia’s extradition request. A date has yet to be set for the formal hearing of Russia’s extradition request. Vinnik is one of seven Russian nationals that have been arrested or indicted for U.S. cybercrime charges this year.
Vinnik and his lawyers have appealed to the Greek Supreme Court, arguing that “insufficient indications, let alone evidence” had been presented against Vinnik by the Thessaloniki court that ruled in favor of extraditing the Russian. The lawyer leading Vinnik’s defense, Alexandros Lykourezos, told media, “we hope and expect a better outcome.” If the appeal is unsuccessful, Greek justice minister has the power to approve or block competing extradition requests for individuals tried in Greece. “We have faith in the Greek justice system and a long road ahead of us,” Xanthippi Moisidou, another lawyer defending Vinnik told reporters.
After Vinnik’s arrest, BTC-e was left offline, receiving a static front page claiming that the website was under maintenance. The U.S. Department of Justice described BTC-e as “one of the largest entities in the field of electronic money laundering.”
The arrest and subsequent seizure of the assets of the BTC-e has questioned to what extent the international jurisdiction of the United States extends in relation to cyber crime. These actions constituted the first instance of US government agencies that attacked a completely foreign exchange on foreign soil. BTC-e reported that “on July 25… the FBI staff came to the data center… and seized all equipment, the servers contained databases and purses of our service,” in addition to fining the company $110,003,314 USD. Amidst the chaos, numerous presumably innocent traders’ funds were seized including an Australian who lost $430,000 USD worth of bitcoin as a consequence of the U.S. government’s seizures.
Since then, BTC-e has changed its name to Wex.nz and claims to operate in full compliance with Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer laws and requirements.
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