French Court Upholds Bitcoin BTC-e Employee's Sentence

A former employee of a Russian cryptocurrency exchange has lost an appeal to overturn a conviction for money laundering.

In December 2020, Alexander Vinnik was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty by a French court of laundering money on a large scale. 

Russian national Vinnik had initially been charged with using ransomware to defraud nearly 200 people but was cleared of this charge in December. 

United States authorities allege that Vinnik was the operator of Bitcoin exchange BTC-e and used his position to commit a string of crimes dating back to 2011, ranging from computer hacking and money laundering to drug trafficking. 

Vinnik has declared himself innocent of all the charges against him and maintains that he was merely a technical consultant to BTC-e and was not employed in an operational capacity. 

Vinnik was arrested at the request of the United States while he was vacationing in Greece in July 2017. 

Russia sought to extradite him on humanitarian grounds in November 2018 after the money launderer went on a hunger strike and his wife was diagnosed with brain cancer. However, Vinnik remained in Greece until the start of 2020, when he was extradited to France. 

In June last year, police in New Zealand seized $90m worth of assets belonging to Vinnik as part of a coordinated operation with the US Internal Revenue Service.

On Monday, a court of appeals in Paris upheld the prison term in the case against Vinnik after finding that he had committed money laundering while being a member of an organized criminal group. They also found that Vinnik lied about the true origin of the ill-gotten gains.

Vinnik's defense team was denied a request to examine copies of the evidence against him supplied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, they did leave the courtroom with one win after a fine of 100,000 Euros, which Vinnik was ordered to pay during his sentencing in December, was dropped.

Vinnik’s lawyer, Frédéric Bélot, fears Vinnik may be extradited to the US, where he is wanted for allegedly laundering $4 billion.

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