US, France, and Russia Bid for the Extradition of Bitcoin Fraud Suspect

France has joined the US and Russia in a bid to extradite a bitcoin fraud suspect of Russian origin from Greece. The suspect is being held in Greece after he was arrested by the request of US authorities. All three countries want to charge the suspect separately of alleged money laundering, extortion, membership to a criminal gang among other crimes.

On July 25 2017, Alexander Vinnik was arrested and detained by Greece authorities for suspicion of involvement in money laundering using bitcoin. Vinnik allegedly laundered over $4 billion of illegally acquired money through a bitcoin exchange platform he used to run.

His arrest was followed by an immediate indictment by a US jury. The Department of Justice alleged that Vinnick was the operator of BTC-e, a bitcoin exchange platform that allowed people to trade anonymously since 2011. They alleged that Vinnik laundered bitcoin through BTC-e on behalf of all sorts of criminals. The indictment was followed by an extradition appeal for Vinnick to the US so that he can face a trial for the charges against him.

US authorities also tied Vinnik to the fall of Mt. Gox, a Japanese bitcoin exchange. Mt. Gox was the biggest bitcoin exchange platform before its fall in 2014, which led to the loss of 850,000 bitcoins. According to a statement by the Department of Justice, Vinnick received bitcoins stolen from Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e. Mt. Gox was such a big exchange platform that it handled over 70% of all bitcoins during its peak period. Of all bitcoins stolen from Mt. G0x only 200,000 have been recovered so far.

The extradition battle between the US and Russia saw Russia issue an arrest warrant in absentia for Vinnick through Ostakinsky District court in Moscow. Russia additionally, placed Vinnick on an international list of wanted suspects for fraud charges. Russia’s interest in Vinnik saw them fight for his extradition at the same time as the US wanted him.

Two separate judge panels in Thessaloniki approved the extradition of Vinnik to the US and Russia respectively. His extradition to the US was later upheld by the Supreme court of Greece. Vinnik’s appeal against extradition to the US was rejected by the Supreme Court of Greece. Vinnik agreed to his extradition to Russia where he faces lesser charges. The final decision of where Vinnick ends up however lies with the justice minister of Greece.

The interest by French authorities has added complications to the already complicated case. French authorities alleged that Vinnik continued to run BTC-e even after he was arrested, using the platform to carry out fraud on a global scale and in the process causing harm to citizens of France. Vinnick opposed the request to be extradited to France, and the Supreme court will make the decision final on whether or not to extradite him to France. If extradited to France, Vinnik will face money laundering, extortion, and membership to a crime gang charges.

Having denied Vinnik asylum, Greece has no option but to decide where to send him immediately.