Greek Supreme Court Approves Extradition of Alleged Bitcoin Exchange Owner to Russia

News and Analysis

The Supreme Court in Greece has ruled on Friday that the alleged owner of the now defunct Bitcoin exchange BTC-e Alexander Vinnik can be extradited to Russia, instead of the US or France, countries which also requested the his extradition.

According to Greek Reporter, Vinnik’s extradition to Russia, however, is now in the hands of the Greek Justice Minister who can decline to sign, although state officials rarely overrule justice systems on such decisions.

Vinnik was arrested in July 2017 in Greece after U.S. prosecutors accused him of supervising BTC-e which allegedly helped criminals launder over $9 billion.

On the same day Greek authorities were arresting Vinnik, a team of researchers presented findings at the Black Hat USA 2017 security conference, revealing that 95 percent of all ransomware payments were cashed out and converted into fiat currency through BTC-e exchange.

Also on the same day, a group of Bitcoin security specialists calling themselves WizSec published the results of an investigation that linked Vinnik’s Bitcoin accounts to laundering funds stolen from the Mt. Gox exchange.

Researchers said that Vinnik was also involved in laundering funds stolen from other cryptocurrency exchanges, such as Bitcoinica, Bitfloor, and other platforms they did not name at the time.

The US requested Vinnik’s extradition on a case involving 21 charges related to money laundering and the operation of an unlicensed money exchange. He faced a combined maximum sentence of up to 35 years in prison, along with various fines, in the US case alone.

Also, as previously reported by Forklog, Vinnik may be aware of how Russians in U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s crosshairs used Bitcoin to obscure their money trail when meddling into the U.S. elections.

Notably, soon after Vinnik’s arrest became public, Russia filed an extradition claim of their own. Russian authorities claimed Vinnik was also a suspected in an investigation in Russia in relation to a €9,500 ($11,000) fraud charge. Details about the case remained murky though.

France filed its own extradition claim in June 2018, for involvement in “cybercrime, money laundering, and membership in a criminal organization and extortion.”

Greek judges waivered in the case at every turn and with every appeal. They initially agreed to extradite Vinnik to the US, then to France over the summer, then to Russia at the start of September.

The case eventually reached Greece’s Supreme Court, and now it was decided that Vinnik should face charges in Russia, the suspect’s native country, and where he expressed his desire to be trialed, mainly because of the thinner charges brought against him.

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