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Alleged Bitcoin Launderer Alexander Vinnik Questioned by French Investigators, Lawyer Says Charges are ‘Trumped up’

Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:45 PM
Josiah Wilmoth
Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:45 PM

The legal saga surrounding alleged bitcoin launderer Alexander Vinnik continues to grow more complicated, as law enforcement officials in three separate countries jockey for the authorization to extradite the alleged BTC-e administrator from Greece, where is currently in local police custody.

Russian state-operated news service TASS  reports that French investigators questioned Vinnik on Monday in connection with what his lawyers have referred to as “trumped-up” charges in Paris.

“Today, on October 1, 2018, French investigators will try to question Alexander Vinnik in Thessaloniki as part of a criminal case initiated against him in Paris. It is no coincidence that the interview has been scheduled before Alexander’s extradition and aims to exert not only psychological pressure on my client but also to obtain evidence of his guilt, which is absent in his case files,” Timofei Musatov, one of Vinnik’s attorney’s, told the publication, “judging from the questions provided by the French investigators in advance, the defense team concluded that there is no evidence of Alexander’s guilt in the case files, while the information the investigators rely on has been falsified.”

As CCN.com reported, Vinnik, a 38-year-old Russian national, was arrested last year at the request of the U.S. while he and his family were vacationing in Greece.

A U.S. grand jury has indicted Vinnik on 21 counts, alleging that, as the operator of now-defunct cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e, he helped launder hundreds of thousands of bitcoins stolen from infamous Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox.

btc-e bitcoin exchange

Vinnik, who claims that he merely a technician at BTC-e — not its administrator — has also been indicted in France and Russia. French prosecutors have charged Vinnik with laundering bitcoins worth around 133 million euros ($155 million), while Russian investigators have filed lesser fraud charges amounting to 750 million rubles ($11 million).

Various Greek courts have approved extradition requests from all three countries, suspending his legal fate in year-long limbo. Most recently, the Greek supreme court approved Russia’s extradition request, though it also plans to weigh in on requests from the United States and France. It is likely that the country’s Minister of Justice will make the final judgment on where Vinnik stands trial.

Unsurprisingly, Vinnik’s defense team has repeatedly argued that he should be extradited to Russia.

According to TASS, Vinnik’s defense team has added a former Greek MP as it seeks to both defend Vinnik against the allegations that he helped launder bitcoins now worth billions of dollars, as well as orchestrate his extradition to his home country of Russia.

“Attorney Zoe Konstantopoulou, formerly the youngest speaker of the Greek Parliament, is going to pose a lot of unpleasant questions for French justice system officials, based on the premise that, according to the defense, charges against Alexander Vinnik have been falsified,” Musatov told the publication.

Notably, blockchain forensics firm Elliptic has said  that Vinnik’s case could have bearing on U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to Elliptic, Russian operatives used BTC-e to launder bitcoins in an unsuccessful attempt to cover their tracks. If true, that could provide Russia with all the more reason to fight to extradite Vinnik to his home jurisdiction.

Earlier this year, Greek police uncovered an assassination plot against Vinnik, which Russian state-owned media outlets suggested was perpetrated by a criminal individual or organization who is “extremely interested in him not coming to Russia.”

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