French prosecutors call for Alexander Vinnik trial

Prosecutors in Paris, France are petitioning to start the trial of digital currency money laundering suspect Alexander Vinnik. Authorities accused Vinnik of founding BTC-e, an exchange that reportedly facilitated money laundering for cyber criminals.

Vinnik was arrested in Greece in 2017 at the request of U.S. authorities. His arrest was followed by a three-way tussle between France, the U.S. and his homeland of Russia, all who wanted to have him extradited to face charges in their courts. Greece finally decided to hand him to France first, with the U.S. and Russia next.

French prosecutors are now seeking to start the trial against Vinnik. According to French weekly news magazine L’Express, prosecutors in the French capital filed a petition to start the lawsuit against the 40-year-old.

Vinnik was extradited to France in January 2020 despite the Russian government’s requests to have him returned to his homeland. Upon arrival, the French prosecutors interrogated and later charged him with extortion and aggravated money laundering. They also charged him with harming automatic data-processing systems for his role in BTC-e.

Vinnik is alleged to be the mastermind behind the exchange, which was at one time one of the largest in the world. BTC-e launched in 2011 at a time when there were few competitors. However, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Vinnik put in place measures that made the exchange ideal for criminals. These include the lack of a requirement for users to validate their identity, the lack of AML programs and the anonymizing of transactions.

In France, Vinnik came under investigation over his alleged links to Locker ransomware. According to L’Express, French authorities opened a probe in 2016 following reports of a ransomware that was encrypting victims’ data and demanding BTC payments. The authorities claimed that Vinnik was linked to the group behind the malware which caused over €135 million in losses to French citizens.

Once he faces the charges in France, Vinnik will be sent back to Greece before being extradited to the U.S. He will eventually be extradited to Russia where he will face a lesser charge relating to fraud.

In June, the New Zealand police seized $90 million allegedly linked to Vinnik and the BTC-e exchange, the largest funds seizure ever in the country.

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