According to Ukrainian news outlet Strana.ua, IT specialist and managing director of UK-based cryptocurrency exchange EXMO, Pavel Lerner, has been kidnapped on December 26 in Kiev. The 40-year-old reportedly has a number of startups linked to cryptocurrencies, including mining operations.
Per most reports, the cryptocurrency exchange’s head was kidnapped near a street formerly known as Moscow Prospect, later renamed to Stepan Bandera Prospect. He was forced into a Mercedes-Benz Vito by unknown assailants. Strana wrote (roughly translated):
“The programmer was dragged into a Mercedes-Benz Vito car (state number AA 2063 MT) by unknown persons in dark clothes and balaclavas, and taken away in an unknown direction.”
Search operations are currently being conducted, and investigators are considering all possible leads in the case. According to BitsMedia, the cryptocurrency exchange Lerner headed, EXMO, recently released a statement confirming media reports, adding it was doing everything it could to help find him. The statement further assured its operations weren’t affected and revealed he didn’t have direct access to user data.
The statement reads:
“The problem is real. We are doing everything possible to speed up the search for Pavel Lerner. The company would be grateful for any information to aid in the search for Pavel. Despite everything, the platform is working as usual. Pavel’s activity in the company does not affect the access to cold storage or other user information.”
According to data from CoinMarketCap, EXMO is a major cryptocurrency exchange with a $110 million daily trading volume, that has crypto to Russian ruble trading pairs. Given that cryptocurrencies are becoming increasingly relevant and that EXMO is one of Ukraine’s biggest exchanges, some believe there’s more to the kidnapping than meets the eye.
According to Ukrainian media, Pavel Lerner is EXMO’s CEO, and the kidnapping is almost certainly connected to his cryptocurrency mining ventures or the exchange. He is from Kursk, but had been living in Barcelona, Spain. He was only occasionally in Kiev.
On his LinkedIn profile, Lerner lists his job as “Head of analytics & trading at EXMO,” a position he’s had for over 4 years, since March 2013. Lerner was open about his connections to EXMO and has even been interviewed in the past. BitsMedia compared his stance to that of the admins of the now-defunct BTC-e exchange, and added that he may face charges similar to those faced by Russian national Alexander Vinnik after being arrested in Greece.
Notably, Vinnik was believed to be an admin at BTC-e, an exchange that saw its domain get seized, and later managed to relaunch as WEX. Those behind BTC-e’s social media accounts quickly stated Vinnik wasn’t even an employee at the exchange,. However, his arrest was almost immediately made public. As CCN reported the motive was for allegedly laundering $4 billion in bitcoin.
According to reports, last year EXMO’s original dot-com domain was blocked by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecom regulator. Its current domain, exmo.me, has been registered under Lerner’s name in Krasnoyarsk, and the exchange is currently fighting the regulator’s decision in court, making it one of the few fighting the state’s clampdown.
This information suggests Lerner might’ve not been kidnapped by criminals trying to extort him. It suggests this may be a “second Alexander Vinnik” case, as BitsMedia puts it.
Separately, EXMO revealed it was hit with a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack earlier today.
Featured image from Shutterstock.