Alexander Vinnik

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Alexander Vinnik
Occupation Hacker
Employer BTC-e
Location Greece
Personal Twitter @vinnik_alex

Alexander Vinnik is a Russian hacker who worked for BTC-e, a Russian cryptocurrency exchange that allegedly used the digital currency to launder money for cybercriminals.[1][2]

Criminal Accusations

Vinnik was arrested in Greece while vacationing with his family in 2016, after Swedish software engineer Kim Nilsson, who had been investigating Mt. Gox's missing bitcoins, tracked several of the missing coins to a wallet owned by Vinnik.[3]

Vinnik was accused by the U.S. of helping criminals circumvent KYC/AML policies in order to launder money with bitcoin; specifically, he was arrested in connection with the hacking attacks on Mt. Gox that caused the Tokyo-based exchange to lose millions of dollars worth of its customer's bitcoins.[4][5]

In October 2019 the office of Nobuaki Kobayashi, a trustee recovering funds on behalf of Mt. Gox's creditors, announced that it had contacted the U.S. Department of Justice seeking information about its investigation of Vinnik.[6]

Extradition

While Vinnik claims he was not guilty of orchestrating the hacking attacks, he is the only employee of the exchange who has been accused of any charges relating to the Mt. Gox incident. Vinnik said in 2017 that he did not orchestrate the attacks and had no knowledge of criminal activity on BTC-e, and that he was only a technician. He also denied the claim that he was the exchange's operator. He appealed to Greek authorities for extradition to his native Russia for trial.[7][8] The United States appealed for Vinnik's extradition to the U.S., which was greenlit by the Greek court system. Russia responded to the verdict with criticism, calling the verdict "unjust," and saying it violated international law. The Russian government added that it hoped Greece would reconsider its request to have Vinnik extradited to Russia.[9][10]

This caused a stalemate that effectively blocked Vinnik's extradition to the U.S. Vinnik allegedly wrote an admission of guilt to Russian authorities, vowing to testify in his native country. In May 2018, Greek authorities uncovered a plot to murder Vinnik in prison that was allegedly "linked to the criminal world."[11] France later filed a similar extradition request as the U.S. - claiming Vinnik had laundered 133 million euros using bitcoin - which was approved on July 13, 2018.[12][13] However, in September, Greece's supreme court announced it had approved Vinnik's extradition to Russia, with a written statement to follow September 14.[14][15]

Vinnik filed an appeal in a Piraeus city court for release or extradition to Russian. In the appeal, he said this was due to "humanitarian reasons."[16]

Possible connection to Mueller investigation

After news of the extradition reached the U.S., Bloomberg reported that based on evidence collected by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, Vinnik could have a connection to the Russian hackers being investigated by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated the influence of Russian hackers on the 2016 U.S. elections. Though Vinnik himself is not suspected of directly influencing the elections, he may have helped Fancy Bear, a Russian hacking unit linked to the attacks, launder money using bitcoin.[17][18]

References

  1. Mt. Gox and the Surprising Redemption of Bitcoin’s Biggest Villain. Fortune.
  2. Court Approves U.S. Extradition for Alleged BTC-e Operator. Coindesk.
  3. Bitcoin Site Fined $110 Million for Money Laundering, Owner Arrested for Hacking. Fortune.
  4. Bitcoin Site Fined $110 Million for Money Laundering, Owner Arrested for Hacking. Fortune.
  5. Alleged Bitcoin Money Launderer Has First Extradition Hearing. Coindesk.
  6. Mt Gox Trustee Asked DOJ to Share Info on Jailed BTC-e Owner Alexander Vinnik. Coindesk.
  7. Court Approves U.S. Extradition for Alleged BTC-e Operator. Coindesk.
  8. Mt. Gox and the Surprising Redemption of Bitcoin’s Biggest Villain. Fortune.
  9. Court Approves U.S. Extradition for Alleged BTC-e Operator. Coindesk.
  10. Russia Blasts Decision to Extradite Alleged Bitcoin Money Launderer. Coindesk.
  11. Greek Police Uncover Plot to Murder Alleged Bitcoin Launderer Alexander Vinnik. CCN.
  12. Greek Court Rules to Extradite Alexander Vinnik, Accused of Laundering $4 Bln in Bitcoin. Cointelegraph.
  13. U.S. indicts suspected Russian 'mastermind' of $4 billion bitcoin laundering scheme. Reuters.
  14. Bitcoin Fraud Suspect Alexander Vinnik Extradited to Russia. Bitcoinist.
  15. The Supreme Court of Greece decided to extradite Vinnik of Russia. RIA.
  16. Alleged BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik Seeks Extradition to Russia. Coindesk.
  17. Bitcoin Suspect Could Shed Light on Russian Mueller Targets. Bloomberg.
  18. A Former Bitcoin Exchange Admin Could Be Key to Mueller’s Russia Investigation. CCN.