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BTC-e Operator

BTC-e Operator Who Used Bitcoin to Launder $4B Extradited to U.S. to Face Charges

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Friday that Alexander Vinnik, a 42-year-old Russian, has been extradited from Greece to the United States to face multiple charges relating to money laundering and operating an illegal cryptocurrency exchange. 

Vinnik first got into legal trouble with the DOJ in 2017 for allegedly operating the now-defunct crypto trading platform BTC-e in the U.S. without proper authorization and helping criminals launder at least $4 billion through Bitcoin.

An Extradition Tussle

That same year, he was arrested in Greece at the request of the U.S. government. After his arrest, Vinnik’s assets, worth $90 million, were confiscated by police in New Zealand police. At the time, the authorities noted that BTC-e allegedly had no anti-money laundering policies, thus facilitating a range of cybercrimes, including laundering illicit proceeds, ransomware attacks, fraud, theft, and drug crimes. 

In January 2020, the 42-year-old was then extradited to France after a years-long extradition tussle between Russia, France, and the United States. 

After his extradition to France, Vinnik denied the allegations and requested a transfer to Russia, where he faces lesser criminal charges involving about $11,000. His request was denied by a Paris-based judge who ruled that he would face charges in France for defrauding at least 100 people through ransomware between 2016 and 2018. 

In December 2020, French prosecutors sentenced Vinnik to five years in prison for money laundering. However, he was acquitted of the initial allegation that he had defrauded people through ransomware. 

U.S. Extradites Vinnik from Greece

On Thursday, the criminal was transferred back to Greece and extradited to the U.S. He now faces 21 charges, including operating an unlicensed money service business, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, and unlawful monetary transactions. 

“After more than five years of litigation, Russian national Alexander Vinnik was extradited to the United States yesterday to be held accountable for operating BTC-e, a criminal cryptocurrency exchange, which laundered more than $4 billion of criminal proceeds,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations, and the U.S. Secret Service Criminal Investigative Division are still investigating the case. Vinnik risks spending up to 50 years in an American prison if found guilty.

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