Russian BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik appeals 5-year prison sentence in Paris

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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

The defense team of Alexander Vinnik, the Russian founder and operator of the now-defunct BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange who was sentenced to a five-year prison term,  appealed the verdict of a Paris court over money laundering charges.

According to a report by Russian news agency Kommersant, Vinnik’s lawyer, Frederic Belot, appealed the verdict, claiming that Vinnik was not involved in money laundering activities.

Paris court earlier found Vinnik, guilty of money laundering as part of an organized group. At the same time, a number of charges against Vinnik were dropped, in particular, of extortion and creation of malicious software called “Locky.”

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Belot argued that Vinnik was only a technical operator carrying out instructions of his “employers”

Belot argued that no “criminal group” consists of one person and that the court “did not name a single name even supposedly belonging to this group.”

Belot earlier said out of about 14 charges initially brought against Vinnik, he was found guilty only on one count.

“This is a very serious ruling in relation to Vinnik. Alexander Vinnik was sentenced to 5 years in prison on charges, for which the court had no evidence. Because these elements were the US authorities through Europol. We believe that this is a ruling that we must appeal. I am awaiting a decision from my client, whom I will see in prison,” Belot said.

Belot said Vinnik was a victim of his anonymous “employers” at now-defunct crypto exchange BTC-e.

A series of ransomware attacks on French businesses between 2016 and 2018 led to 20 victims paying ransom demands issued in bitcoin through BTC-e, which is one of the world’s biggest digital currency exchanges.

Vinnik has since defended that he was only a technical operator carrying out the instructions of BTC-e directors.

Vinnik is also wanted in the U.S. and Russia. He was accused of being behind a 135 million-euro ($160 million) fraud campaign that used ransomware and the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

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.

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