BTC-e Founder Gets Five Years for Money Laundering

A Russian national has been sentenced to five years after being found guilty by a French court of large-scale money laundering, although charges relating to his alleged involvement in ransomware development were dropped.

Alexander Vinnik was extradited at the start of 2020 to France from Greece, where he had been since his arrest there in 2017.

The US authorities indicted him that year for laundering over $4bn in funds via his Bitcoin exchange, BTC-e. They alleged that his business had become heavily reliant on criminal customers, and received the proceeds from numerous identity theft campaigns, ransomware attacks, narcotics gangs and corrupt public officials.

These allegedly included money taken from now-defunct exchange Mt Gox, which spectacularly collapsed in 2014 after large sums were stolen from its customers.

Following his arrest, Vinnik became the subject of a three-way tussle for extradition between the Russian, French and American authorities.

Some $90m in assets were seized by New Zealand police in June this year, following a coordinated campaign with the US Internal Revenue Service.

Vinnik was handed a five-year sentence for money laundering by a judge in Paris yesterday, although prosecutors also wanted him charged with “extortion, conspiracy and harming automatic data-processing systems,” according to local reports.

He was accused of helping to develop the Locky ransomware, which the authorities said was responsible for extorting $157m out of French organizations.

Vinnik maintained his innocence throughout, claiming that he was merely a technical assistant working for BTC-e. He went on hunger strike in January to try to force an extradition to his home country.

His attorney, Frederic Belot, has reportedly claimed that the US authorities are still seeking to get their hands on Vinnik.

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