Russia And US Feud: Greek Court Upholds Competing Extradition Requests For Alleged BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik
UPDATED | October 11, 2017:
On October 11, 2017, a Greek Court ruled that Alexander Vinnik – accused of laundering $4 billion worth of bitcoin – can be extradited to his native Russia. This conflicts with a previous ruling, as exactly one week ago, a three-member panel of judges supported the extradition request filed by the United States. In the aftermath of the ruling, Vinnik and his defense attorneys – who deny all charges – expressed his desire to return to Russia, where he would be brought up on lesser fraud charges. By comparison, in the United States, Vinnik would face up to 55 years behind bars.
UPDATED | October 09, 2017:
On October 6, 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation issued a comment on the Greek court’s decision to extradite Alexander Vinnik to the US, calling the verdict “unjust and a violation of international law.”
“Based on legal precedent,” the ministry wrote, “the Russian request should take priority as Mr. Vinnik is a citizen of Russia. The verdict is even more surprising in the context of the atmosphere of friendly relations between Russia and Greece.”
The ministry acknowledges that the Greek court’s decision is not final, as Vinnik and his defense team plan to appeal to the Supreme Civil and Criminal Court of Greece and await judgment from the Greek Minister of Justice.
ORIGINAL | October 04, 2017:
On October 4, 2017, a Greek court ruled to extradite Alexander Vinnik to the United States, according to the Associated Press. Vinnik, suspected of laundering $4 billion worth of bitcoin, was arrested while vacationing in northern Greece in July 2017.
BREAKING: Greek court rules to extradite Russian bitcoin fraud suspect Alexander Vinnik to the United States.— The Associated Press (@AP) October 4, 2017
US officials charge that as the operator of BTC-e, Vinnik extensively laundered criminal proceeds thereby facilitating drug trafficking and hacking, accusations that he has repeatedly denied. Instead, Vinnik claims he was simply a technical consultant and BTC-e was one of his clients.
On July 26, 2017, the day after Vinnik’s arrest, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) levied a $110 million fine against BTC-e for violations of American anti-money laundering (AML) laws. As if the web of activity wasn’t large enough already, American authorities have also tied Vinnik to the failure of Japanese bitcoin exchange MtGox. If extradited to the US, Vinnik faces up to 55 years in prison.
But, Russian authorities also want Vinnik on separate fraud charges, according to The News Tribune. A hearing for Russia’s extradition request is slated for October 11 and although Vinnik’s lawyers have fought against the American extradition request, they are not contesting the Russian request.
At present, Vinnik’s lawyers are appealing to the Greek Supreme Court, claiming that there are “insufficient indications, let alone evidence” against the accused. “We hope and expect a better outcome,” said defense lead Alexandros Lykourezos.
Nikos Paraskevopoulos, the Greek Minister of Justice, will have the final word on the competing extradition cases, and may play a critical role in determining where Vinnik stands trial.