Major Greek court rules that alleged cryptocurrency scammer should be extradited

Christian MacLeod
flag of Greece

A leading court in Greece has ruled that a man alleged to have operated a fraudulent and money laundering cryptocurrency exchange ought to be extradited to France.

The Supreme Court of Greece said that Alexander Vinnik, who used to run BTC-e before it closed down, should be sent to the western European nation to face trial.
It comes after Vinnik appealed against the decision of a lower court in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, which earlier this year said that he should be extradited.

Vinnik, who is a Russian national aged 39 years old, was taken into custody in Greece back in July of 2017. He stands accused of a number of serious scam-related charges, including money laundering to the tune of $4 billion. He is also accused of various charges of fraud.

In particular, authorities accuse him of laundering money through BTC-e, which they claim was a front for crime.

The crimes for which the money was allegedly laundered range from drug offences to the hacking of computer equipment.

Vinnik also had associations with a large number of other cryptocurrency-related firms, including Japanese firm Mt Gox and a firm called Tradehill based in San Francisco.

When Vinnik was arrested, BTC-e was a major virtual currency site. Now, it is fully defunct – and its supposed successor organisation, Wex, has also been hit by problems with authorities. It recently, for example, lost its domain after action from New Zealand’s Domain Name Commission.

His legal defence team claim that moving him to France will have the ultimate consequence of sending him to the US. There, authorities are looking to extract a penalty to the tune of $110 million as a result of BTC-e’s activities, as well as additional demands related to his alleged breaking of anti-money laundering rules.

At the time that Vinnik was first taken into custody, a US attorney told the press that “criminals” were involved in using technology for “nefarious purposes”.

“Just as new computer technologies continue to change the way we engage each other and experience the world, so too will criminals subvert these new technologies to serve their own nefarious purposes”, Brian Stretch, US attorney for the Northern District of California, said.

The case has seen a number of unusual twists, including Vinnik’s decision to go on a hunger strike as a result of what he describes as the “arbitrariness” of Greece’s judicial system.

“I have been fasting for 24 days already”, a statement from the Russian government’s news agency, TASS, attributed to him.

“Yesterday the last time I was weighed [in prison], I lost 8kg according to the documents. But they did not immediately start weighing me, only on the third day. So I lost 9kg exactly”, the statement went on to read.

The case also has an international political dimension, too. Russia is believed to be demanding that the Greek authorities send Vinnik to Russia instead of to France.

Earlier this year, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that authorities in Greece were “continu[ing] to complicate relations with Russia”.

Christian MacLeod

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