BTC-e cryptocurrency operator, Alexander Vinnik sentenced to 5 years in French prison

Alexander Vinnik, a 38 year old Russian man (2nd L) suspected of running a money laundering operation, is escorted by plain-clothes police officers to a court in Thessaloniki, Greece July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis

Alexander Vinnik, the 41-year-old Russian founder and operator of the now-defunct BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange has been sentenced to 5 years in a French prison. The court also fined him 100,000 euros or $121,270 U.S. dollars.

The now-disgraced Russian was arrested in July 2017 while on vacation in Greece. He was there until he was finally extradited to France earlier this year. The U.S. and Russia also filed competing extradition requests with Greece.

Vinnik was one of seven Russians who were detained or indicted between 2017-2018 on U.S. charges of cybercrimes including ransomware attacks and money laundering. During that time the U.S. was trying to close down the Silk Road darknet which was used by international criminals.

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 BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange hotbed of cybercrime

The  U.S. and other countries believe that Vinnick operated the BTC-e website. It is one of the first and most popular digital-currency exchanges where global customers bought and sold bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

He is under indictment in the U.S. for his association with BTC-e, which allegedly had no “basic anti-money laundering controls and policies” in-place at the website. It was also allegedly one of the primary means by which international cybercriminals were able to launder money.

The U.S. indictment also alleged Vinnik withdrew and laundered 530,000 BTC from the breached Mt. Gox exchange between 2011 and 2014 along with other cybercrimes that totaled billions.

Linked to Locky ransomware attacks

Vinnick was only convicted of money laundering. He was acquitted of extortion and criminal enterprise associated with the Locky ransomware attacks that took place between 2016-2018. The court couldn’t find enough evidence for a conviction for those charges.

Many countries still believe that the tech-savvy Vinnik was the mastermind behind  BTC-e. However, he claimed that he was only a technical operator who carried out orders handed down by BTC-e directors.

Alexander Vinnik has long been suspected of creating the Locky strain of ransomware which was used in about 200 attacks on companies and individuals in France. The ransomware attacks netted an estimated 135 million euros for the ransomware gang.

According to the Associated Press,  Ariane Zimra, an attorney for Vinnik, believes that they will be successful on appeal. She argued that since cryptocurrency is not legally recognized as “money,” her client’s conviction for money laundering “doesn’t make sense.” 

The U.S. is still hoping to someday put Vinnik on trial.


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