USA and Russia

BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik pleads for prisoner swap between US and Russia

Alexander Vinnik, a Russian citizen accused of facilitating the laundering of $4 billion through digital assets, is calling on his home country to negotiate with the U.S. for his extradition via a prisoner swap.

Vinnik was arrested in Greece in 2017 at the request of American authorities. He was then extradited to France, where he was sentenced to five years in prison before being extradited again, this time to the U.S. He appeared before a San Francisco judge in August, with the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealing that he will face 55 years behind bars if convicted of running defunct exchange BTC-e.

Russia has been demanding that Vinnik be returned to his home country, where he would face lesser charges, but the U.S., France, and Greece have all failed to heed Russia’s calls.

Vinnik’s lawyers are now exploring a prisoner swap as the only option left to bring Vinnik back home.

In a letter seen by Reuters, lawyer Frederic Belot implored Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to start negotiating with Washington for a prisoner swap that would see any of the dozens of Americans held in Moscow head home while Vinnik heads the other way.

“Now the only thing that can save Alexander is for the Russian Federation to enter into negotiations with the American authorities within the framework of the exchange of prisoners between the countries mentioned,” the letter stated.

According to the James Foley Foundation, at least 60 Americans are held captive abroad, with Russia, a leader in detentions. The most high-profile detainee is Brittney Griner, a 31-year-old U.S. Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star who was arrested in February over drug-related offenses. 

Griner pleaded guilty to the charges and could face up to ten years behind bars. U.S. President Joe Biden has been under increasing pressure to bring back the two-time Olympic gold medalist back, and as such, a swap with Vinnik isn’t out of the cards.

Despite being at odds on every other major issue, Russia and the U.S. have proven they can work together on prisoner swaps. In April, former marine Trevor Reed was released by Russia in exchange for the release of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who had been convicted in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking.

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