Police in New Zealand seize cash in Vinnik case

Justin Freeman
New Zealand Police's website homepage

A police force in New Zealand has seized a sum of money believed to be equivalent to around US$90m.

The cash has been allegedly linked to Alexander Vinnik, a man who stands accused of controlling a cryptocurrency exchange that has since gone defunct.

BTC-e, which Vinnik operated, is accused of being part of an elaborate tapestry of money laundering systems.

Vinnik himself, who is Russian, has consistently denied the charges levied against him.

He was arrested in Greece back in 2017 and was taken into custody on the grounds of extradition orders issued by the US authorities.

He is currently in prison in France after senior figures in the Greek judiciary said earlier in 2020 that he could be extradited there.

He faces charges of aggravated money laundering, extortion, conspiracy and more.

He is also accused of causing harm to automated data processing systems as part of his alleged money laundering efforts.

However, in the latest twist in the saga, cash with a value of around NZ$140m is now under the control of the New Zealand police.

It is understood that the cash was being held by a firm based in the country.

The seizure, meanwhile, has been described as the most sizeable in the history of the country’s federal police force.

In a statement, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said that the police force in the country had worked alongside officials in the US as part of the investigation.

“New Zealand Police has worked closely with the Internal Revenue Service of the United States to address this very serious offending,” he said.

“These funds are likely to reflect the profit gained from the victimisation of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people globally as a result of cyber-crime and organised crime,” he added.

The case against Vinnik has had a wide range of twists and turns.

At one stage, for example, he went on a hunger strike – and he has also accused the authorities of treating him badly in prison.

A crypto industry publication held a phone call with his lawyer, Zoe Konstantopoulou.

“Alexander has been subject to arbitrary detention for 30 months, which is prohibited by the Greek constitution. During this period, he has been made to suffer cruel and inhuman treatment from the authorities,” Konstantopoulou was quoted as saying.

She went on to allege that the Greek authorities were failing to permit Vinnik to visit his unwell wife.

“Greek law enforcement isn’t allowing Alexander to see his family, even his wife who has been diagnosed with brain cancer,” she said.

At the time of the charges from France earlier this year, Konstantopoulou claimed that part of the case against Vinnik was related to his nationality and use of crypto.

“Alexander’s crime is to be Russian and a person with extraordinary technological knowledge that could liberate people economically,” she said.

“The Greek Minister of Justice has in essence decided that this person is going to spend his life being extradited, judged and then re-extradited, re-judged and yet again re-extradited and re-judged,” she added.

Justin Freeman

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