By Sean Lyngaas, CNN
A Russian national accused of running a multibillion-dollar cryptocurrency exchange that allegedly profited from various hacking and extortion schemes has been extradited from Greece and is on his way to the US, according to the suspect’s lawyer.
Alexander Vinnik, who is in his early 40s, is accused of operating a cryptocurrency exchange known as BTC-e that allegedly did business with ransomware gangs, drug dealers and identity thieves, according to the Justice Department. He faces charges in the US Northern District Court of California of money laundering and operating an unlicensed money service business in the US, among other charges.
Vinnik’s extradition is a significant win for US law enforcement officials, who had been in a high-stakes extradition fight with Russia to gain custody of Vinnik.
Frédéric Bélot, Vinnik’s lawyer in France, told CNN Thursday afternoon that his client was on a plane from Athens, Greece, to the US, where he is expected to make an initial court appearance in the US Northern District of California.
Bélot said that Vinnik maintains his innocence.
Vinnik’s extradition shows how US prosecutors have continued to pursue high-profile Russian cybercrime suspects at a time when any faint hopes of cooperation with Moscow on the issue have dimmed.
Vinnik was arrested in 2017 in Greece and subsequently extradited to France, where he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2020 for money laundering. But Vinnik has also been under indictment in US since 2017, and the US and Russia filed dueling extradition requests from Greece.
BTC-e, which shut down in 2017, received more than $4 billion worth of bitcoin while it was operating, according to the Justice Department.
The Treasury Department in 2017 assessed a $110 million civil money penalty against the cryptocurrency exchange “for willfully violating U.S. anti-money laundering laws” and a $12 million fee against Vinnik.
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