BTC-e lawsuit: Paris Court of Appeal upholds judgement

Alexander Vinnik, the Russian computer scientist who made headlines back in 2017, is back in the spotlight. After waiting several months since the sentence handed down in December 2020, the Paris Court of Appeal has finally delivered its judgment. The computer scientist was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. However, some of the charges against him were dropped.

Five years behind bars

According to the Paris Court of Appeal, Alexander Vinnik, the BTC-e operator, was guilty of money laundering in collaboration with an organised criminal group. Moreover, according to the Court, in order to conceal the truth, Vinnik produced false documents about where the money came from.

In December 2020, in addition to the five-year prison sentence he received, he was given a fine of €100,000 (~£86,000). However, this was annulled by the Court of Appeal. The institution saw fit to exonerate him with regard to his involvement in a fraud case. Mr Vinnik is said to have defrauded nearly 200 people using ransomware. No, the Court replied, which considered that Vinnik was not guilty in that case.

This leaves his five year prison sentence. The Court rejected his lawyers’ request to examine the copies of the evidence provided by the FBI. The Russian computer scientist’s defence team plans to appeal to the Court of Cassation within five days of the verdict.

Wanted by the United States and Russia

In July 2017, while on holiday in Greece, Alexander Vinnik was arrested by the Greek authorities at the request of the United States. He was accused of laundering more than $4 billion (£2.89 billion) when he was operator of BTC-e, the now-defunct cryptocurrency exchange.

A few years later, in January 2020, Mr Vinnik was extradited to France, where he was sentenced to five years in prison. After the sentence was given, his lawyer, Frédéric Bélot, feared that he would be sent back to the United States to be tried for the same cases – the Alexander Vinnik case has truly reached international proportions.

Alexander Vinnik was also requested by Russia, citing “humanitarian grounds”. In November 2018, the Russian computer scientist began a hunger strike. The Russian human rights ombudsman, Tatiana Moskalkova, suggested at the time that he be sent back to Russia in order to receive adequate health care. It had highlighted the deterioration of Vinnik’s health and his wife’s brain cancer diagnosis.

But had Russia really requested the man’s extradition on humanitarian grounds? According to unofficial reports, it is because Russia fears that sensitive data relating to its intelligence services will fall into the hands of other countries. Analysts believe that Russian intelligence agents used the BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange to acquire Bitcoin (BTC) in top secret transactions. If extradited to Russia, Vinnik will face a much less severe charge: “fraud in the field of computer information”.

Russian computer scientist Alexander Vinnik’s soap opera has taken a new turn. The Paris Court of Appeal has lightened the charges against him, but has upheld the prison sentence initially handed down. Will he go to Russia or the United States afterwards? Hard to tell.

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