On December 26, 40-year-old IT specialist and bitcoin exchange executive Pavel Lerner was kidnapped in Kiev, Ukraine. He was reportedly forced into a Mercedes-Benz Vito by unknown assailants wearing dark clothes and balaclavas. Lerner, a leading analyst at cryptocurrency exchange EXMO, stopped answering the phone after leaving the company’s offices.
Speaking to Reuters, Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, stated that Pavel Lerner was released after a $1 million bitcoin ransom was paid. Per his words, it seems either Pavel Lerner or EXMO paid the ransom, but at this point it’s unclear who actually did it. Per a statement EXMO released, Pavel didn’t have access to the financial assets of users, and the platform kept operating normally.
Notably, Gerashchenko added that this is the “first such case in Ukraine linked to bitcoin,” a potential hint at just how big cryptocurrencies are becoming. Kiev police begun investigating the crime on December 26, and so far it has only admitted it launched a criminal investigation after a man was kidnapped in the Obolon district, without revealing the victim’s name.
After Lerner was found alive and safe, EXMO revealed he was in a “state of major stress” and as such wouldn’t provide any official comments in the coming days. In its statement, the cryptocurrency exchange, which currently has a $194 million trading volume and lists crypto to Russian ruble trading pairs, thanked the cryptocurrency community for its support. The statement reads:
“EXMO team is deeply grateful to the cryptocurrency community and the media for their active support. We promise to timely provide any updates on the situation.”
It notes, however, that ”the story of Pavel’s abduction has overgrown with rumors that might tamper with the official investigation,” and as such currently “refrains from any comments or suggestions of own versions of the possible scenario, in the nearest future.”
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