French Court Upholds BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik’s Prison Sentence

Divya  |  Jun 28, 2021

The French Court of Appeals has upheld BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik’s five-year prison sentence from a verdict delivered in December 2020. Vinnik was found guilty of money laundering and providing false information on the origin of the proceeds.

BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik Will Fight Against Extradition to the US

Vinnik is a Russian IT specialist and alleged cybercriminal, who was originally detained in Greece during a family vacation in 2017 after authorities received a request from the United States. At the time, he was facing a warrant from American prosecutors alleging that he had laundered more than $9 billion while running the now-defunct crypto exchange BTC-e.

In January 2020, Vinnik was extradited to France and in December a court sentenced him to five years in prison. His appeal against this verdict was rejected in the Parisian Court of Appeals, although he was exempted from paying a fine of 100,000 Euros as per the original sentence.

Vinnik was also charged with using ransomware to defraud nearly 200 people. But the court cleared him of the cybercrime charges. According to Russian news outlet TAAS, the prosecution had demanded a smaller fine against Vinnik, as they were doubtful of his capability to pay back his victims.

Going forward, Vinnik’s lawyer Frédéric Bélot will focus his efforts on preventing the IT specialist’s extradition to Greece after serving his prison term in France. Bélot fears that his client may be extradited to the US on similar charges as a consequence.

Russia Requested Vinnik’s Extradition on Humanitarian Grounds

Vinnik is also accused of “fraud in the field of computer information,” in Russia, which has also requested his extradition. However, French authorities have rejected Moscow’s appeal. Many reports suggest that the country’s interference may be motivated by fears of private data being compromised before foreign adversaries. There are speculations that Russia may have leveraged BTC-e to gather Bitcoin for its classified projects.

Russia filed its extradition request in 2018 after Vinnik went on a hunger strike in Greece. During that time, Vinnik had stated that he would readily face a trial in his home country where he is expected to face lighter charges. 

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