French court sentences BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik to 5 years
A court of appeals in Paris has upheld the five-year prison term in the case against BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik.
The court upheld a December 2020 verdict and prison sentence, finding that Vinnik/BTC-e had committed money laundering as part of an organized criminal group, and provided false information about the origin of the proceeds.
The Parisian court dismissed several requests from Vinnik’s defense team, including asking to examine copies of the evidence provided by the FBI. The court also exempted Vinnik from a fine of 100,000 Euros which originally accompanied the December sentence.
Vinnik was originally charged with defrauding nearly 200 people using ransomware, but the court cleared him of the malware attack charges in December. The prosecution service had asked for a smaller fine, expressing doubts that he would be able to pay out the victims of his crimes, according to Russian state news outlet TAAS.
The defense team plans to file a cassation appeal within five days as required by French law.
The Russian computer specialist was originally detained while vacationing in Greece during July 2017 at the request of the United States. He is accused by the U.S. of laundering more than $4 billion while operating the now-defunct crypto exchange BTC-e.
In January 2020, Vinnik was extradited to France, where he was sentenced to five years in prison in December. Vinnik’s lawyer, Frédéric Bélot, fears that Greek authorities may want him returned to Greece after the sentence to face extradition to the United States on similar charges.
Russia has also filed an extradition request citing humanitarian grounds. After Vinnik went on hunger strike in Greece in November 2018, Russian human rights ombudswoman, Tatiana Moskalkova, sought the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to vouch for Vinnik to be returned to Russia. At the time, she emphasized the deteriorating health of both Vinnik and his wife, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer.
However, it has been reported that Russia’s extradition request may be motivated by preventing sensitive data regarding its intelligence operations from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries, with some analysts suggesting Russian intelligence agencies may have used BTC-e to acquire Bitcoin for classified operations.
If extradited, Vinnik would face the lighter charges of “fraud in the field of computer information” in Russia.