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US, Moscow seek Russian held in Greece over Bitcoin laundering

Bitcoin’s value has been extremely volatile but recent months/AFP-File

THESSALONIKI, Greece, Sep 19 – Moscow has requested the extradition of a Russian national also wanted in the United States for laundering billions of dollars through a Bitcoin exchange he operated, a judicial source said Tuesday.

Alexander Vinnik, who headed BTC-e, an exchange he operated for the Bitcoin crypto-currency, was indicted by a US court in late July on 21 charges ranging from identity theft and facilitating drug trafficking to money laundering.

He has been languishing in a Greek jail since his arrest on July 25 in the tourist resort of Halkidiki, near the northern city of Thessaloniki.

According to the judicial source, Vinnik said he would not contest Moscow’s request, dated August 10. He is wanted there on separate fraud charges totalling 9,500 euros ($11,000).

According to US authorities, Vinnik, 37, “stole identities, facilitated drug trafficking, and helped to launder criminal proceeds from syndicates around the world.”

In addition, BTC-e “was noted for its role in numerous ransomware and other cyber-criminal activity,” receiving more than $4 billion worth of bitcoin over the course of its operation.

BTC-e, founded in 2011, became one of the world’s largest and most widely used digital currency exchanges, but according to the indictment, it was “heavily reliant on criminals” engaged in identity theft and drugs, as well as corrupt public officials.

Vinnik was also charged with receiving funds from the infamous hack of Mt. Gox an earlier digital currency exchange that eventually failed, in part due to losses attributable to hacking.

The Treasury Department has fined BTC-e $110 million for “wilfully violating” US anti-money laundering laws, and Vinnik $12 million.

In July, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hailed Vinnik’s arrest and indictment, saying that cracking down on illegal uses of the cyber currency is a key goal of US regulators.

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The Greek justice system will now have to decide whether Vinnik heads to Moscow or Washington.

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