While the Mt. Gox exchange may be dead, its ghost has refused to rest in peace until its killers are hunted down. Most recently, a Greek court has ruled that Alexander Vinnik, founder of the now-defunct BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange, will be extradited to France. Vinnik has been accused of playing a significant role in the Mt. Gox and Bitcoinica heists.
Mr. Bitcoin Goes to France
According to a CNN Greece report, a Greek court has ordered the extradition of Alexander Vinnik to France, where he is wanted for corrupt practices involving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Earlier in July, French authorities joined the US and Russia in the fight for Vinnik’s extradition. Vinnik’s presence is sought by all three countries regarding allegations of fraud, extortion, and other crimes.
Vinnik, who is accused by a French court of swindling about 100 citizens and masterminding ransomware attacks for cryptocurrency in France, has denied being involved in any illicit deals. He asserts that he’s only been involved in carrying out “personal transactions” by “transferring e-money through a platform, in a legitimate manner.” “I was working this way. My job is to trade with Bitcoin. Since I have committed all these offenses, why is not Greece persecuting me?” he asked.
An Uncovered Secret
In July 2017, a report from cybersecurity firm, WizSecurity, revealed that Vinnik, the owner of BTC-e exchange, played an active role in the Mt. Gox hack, laundering $4 billion worth of bitcoin. “The stolen MtGox coins were not the only coins handled by Vinnik; coins stolen from Bitcoinica, Bitfloor and several other thefts from back in 2011 and 2012 were all laundered through the same wallets,” WizSecurity stated at the time.
On July 25, 2017, Greek authorities arrested Vinnik. Almost immediately, the US government asked Greece to extradite Vinnik to the US to enable law enforcement agents to interrogate him and investigate his involvement in money laundering acts. Interestingly, the US request for Vinnik extradition did not go down well with Russian authorities, who unequivocally opposed the idea.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry clearly stated that Vinnik must not be sent to the US. “We consider the verdict unjust and violating the basics of international law. According to generally accepted legal norms, the Russian request takes precedence [over another country’s] as Vinnik is a citizen of the Russian Federation,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry in October 2017.
On May 14, 2017, BTCManager reported that Greek authorities had uncovered a murder plot against Vinnik, orchestrated by “some unknown person from Russia.” The failed murder attempt prompted Greek authorities to beef up security around the accused.
Importantly, on July 13, 2018, Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned Greece for deciding to extradite Vinnik to France, stating that the move could further strain the relationship between both nations. “Greece has turned a blind eye to a request from the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia to extradite Vinnik to his home country, a request that should have been given priority,” declared the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, adding “It is obvious that Russia cannot leave these actions unanswered.”
Aside from diplomatic concerns, Vinnik is also wanted by Russia for his involvement in crimes worth about 9,500 euros. At present, Vinnik is willing to be extradited to his country and has asked his lawyers to appeal the ruling in the Greek Supreme Court. It remains to be seen if his request will be granted.