BTC-e Operator Faces Jail in France for Ransomware, Money Laundering

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A trial against Alexander Vinnik, an alleged Russian hacker accused of laundering $4 billion of criminal proceeds through BTC-e, is set to conclude in France today. The accused cybercriminal faces charges of extortion, money laundering and involvement in a malicious software attack.

If convicted, the 41-year-old Russian faces up to ten years in prison. Vinnik is suspected of being one of the brains of Locky, a ransomware strain that hit French businesses and organizations on a large scale between 2016 and 2018.

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The infamous software had allegedly yielded nearly $160 million for its creators and then Vinnik laundered the resulting bitcoin ransom payments through the BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange.

This is the latest milestone in a case that spans multiple countries as Vinnik is also wanted in the United States and Russia. He was arrested in 2017 in Greece, and then was extradited to France in 2020.

Greek justice minister signed a decision on the extradition of Vinnik to France in late 2019, which resolved a legal war in which Greece also had to consider rival extradition requests.

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Vinnik’s lawyers appealed to the Greek Supreme Court, claiming that there are insufficient indications, let alone evidence against Vinnik, who has been held in custody since his arrest while vacationing in northern Greece.

Moscow also submitted an extradition request for Vinnik, who denies his country’s accusations of fraud but has consented to its extradition request.

Athens favors the French request

In 2017, Vinnik was arrested near the northern city of Thessaloniki on a US warrant, where authorities want him on several charges of fraud, including laundering stolen funds from the hack of the defunct bitcoin exchange MtGox.

French authorities indicted Alexander Vinnik following an investigation that described him as the operator of BTC-e exchange, which was allegedly used to launder more than 130 million euros for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking.

US authorities also said that he was the brain behind the collapse of Japan-based bitcoin exchange MtGox, after which he laundered the stolen monies through BTC-e and another San Francisco-based exchange called Tradehill.

Vinnik’s arrest coincided with a series of US-initiated operations against Russian hackers after officials claimed that Russia interfered in the US presidential election to help Donald Trump takes office, something Moscow denies.