Alexander Vinnik extradited France money laundering
Bitcoin,  Cryptocurrencies

France charges alleged BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik with money laundering, extortion

Vinnik has been on a hunger strike to protest his lengthy detention

French officials have filed preliminary charges of money laundering and extortion against alleged BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik on Friday, according to several media reports.

The Russian national was extradited to France on Thursday after spending more than two years in detention in Greece while France, Russia, and the U.S. negotiated his extradition.  

Vinnik was first arrested in Greece in July 2017, at the behest of the U.S., which accused him of laundering $4 billion through the now-defunct bitcoin exchange BTC-e. Allegedly among those ill-gotten funds were some 300,000 bitcoins siphoned from Mt. Gox, a Tokyo exchange that famously went belly up in 2014. 

Greek authorities ruled that Vinnik should go to France, then to the U.S., and finally to Russia. Vinnik was hoping to go straight to Russia, where he would face lighter sentencing. 

French investigators interrogated Vinnick on Thursday, the same day he was extradited from Greece, according to a report in Bloomberg.  

‘Inhumane’ treatment

At a press conference on Tuesday, Zoi Konstantopoulou, Vinnik’s lawyer, said that he was being “persecuted” because the international banking system sees him as a threat, according to Bloomberg.

She also claimed that his computer prowess and his nationality made him a target. “Alexander’s crime is to be Russian and a person with extraordinary technological knowledge that could liberate people economically,” she said. 

Vinnik’s defense team also complained about the way he has been treated, saying the length of his pretrial detention was inhumane.

In protest, Vinnik has been on 40-day hunger strike that began in Greece. His lawyers said that he is currently hospitalized in France. It isn’t his first hunger strike. He went on one early last year as well.  

“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,” Konstantopoulou said. 

French authorities charged Vinnik with extortion, aggravated money laundering, conspiracy, and harming automatic data-processing systems. The investigation is still in process and no trial date has been scheduled.

Vinnik, who has maintained his innocence, will remain in France until his trial is complete, before going back to Greece, and then the U.S.

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Amy Castor has more than 20 years' experience in journalism. Her work on crypto and blockchain has appeared in consumer and trade publications throughout the U.S., including CoinDesk, Forbes, Bitcoin Magazine, and The Block.