Russian cybercrime suspect in $4bn bitcoin fraud case can be extradited to US, court rules

Russian Alexander Vinnik (C) is escorted by police officers as he arrives at a courthouse in Thessaloniki on October 4, 2017.SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images

A Greek court ruled Wednesday (4 October) to extradite Russian cybercrime suspect Alexander Vinnik to the US, where he is wanted in connection with a $4bn (£3.1bn) bitcoin fraud case.

A three-member panel of judges backed the US extradition request for the 37-year-old, who was arrested while on vacation in northern Greece on 25 July this year.

Soon after the decision, Vinnik's lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court on behalf of their client.

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Russia is also seeking Vinnik's extradition on separate fraud charges, but no date has yet been set for that hearing. Vinnik's lawyers said that he would not contest the Russian request.

"We have not seen the formal decision and we'll wait for it to come out before making comment," Vinnik's lawyer Alexandros Lykourezos said.

"We have taken immediate action and appealed the ruling and the case will be examined by the criminal division of the Supreme Court."

Authorities accused Vinnik of running digital currency exchange BTC-e and of involvement in laundering money from criminal proceeds, charges he denies.

In August, a US Department of Justice (DoJ) indictment said withdrawals from admin profiles were sent "directly" to Vinnik's own bank accounts.

The Russian suspect was also described as the "beneficial owner" of BTC-e's managing company, Canton Business Corporation.

The legal papers from US authorities linked him to an attack against another cryptocurrency exchange known as Mt Gox, which was forced offline by hackers in 2014.

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BTC-e received more than $4bn worth of bitcoin over the course of its operation, the indictment said, adding it was used to facilitate transactions for cybercriminals worldwide.

The exchange allegedly received money from a slew of crimes including computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund schemes, drug dealing, public corruption and drug trafficking.

Greek police branded Vinnik "an internationally sought mastermind of a crime organisation".

But speaking during Wednesday's hearing, Vinnik repeated that he had nothing to do with the digital platform he is accused of running to commit the bitcoin fraud. He said he was merely a technician and the platform was one of his clients.

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"I have nothing to do with what I am accused of," he told the judges.

Vinnik said that electronic equipment confiscated during his arrest was not related to his job, and that the laptop seized by police contained only cartoons for his children.

In August, US attorney Brian Stretch said: "Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin provide people around the world new and innovative ways of engaging in legitimate commerce.

"As this case demonstrates, however, just as new computer technologies continue to change the way we engage each other and experience the world, so too will criminals subvert these new technologies to serve their own nefarious purposes."

The US indictment charged Vinnik with one count of operation of an unlicensed money service business, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, 17 counts of money laundering and two counts of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

If convicted of those crimes, Vinnik faces up to 55 years in US prison.

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