Alleged Bitcoin Launderer Extradited to US After 5 Years in Jail

Accused bitcoin launderer Alexander Vinnik touched down in San Francisco overnight after a years-long battle over his extradition


Alexander Vinnik | Source: Shutterstock


key takeaways

  • The US charged Vinnik and defunct crypto exchange BTC-e in 2017 over illegal profits
  • He’s alleged to have played a role in laundering bitcoin stolen in the Mt. Gox hack

Alleged bitcoin launderer Alexander Vinnik has been extradited to the US, some five years after his initial indictment.

Vinnik, a Russian national, was the alleged operator of defunct cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e. He left Greece on Thursday after facing arrest in several countries.

“Alexander was transferred from Paris to Athens yesterday in the early afternoon,” his French lawyer Frédéric Bélot told Blockworks in an emailed statement on Friday. “Then he was transferred from Athens to Boston (to refuel) and he arrived in San Francisco during the night.”

The lawyer added that he would continue to defend Vinnik alongside American counsel. Vinnik faces up to 55 years in US prison.

CNN, which first reported the development, said Vinnik is expected to appear in court in the Northern District of California. The report didn’t mention a date of appearance.

Vinnik was charged in 2017 for operating an unlicensed money service business and alleged money laundering. The Department of Justice accused him of a long list of crimes including stealing identities, enabling drug trafficking and helping to launder criminal proceeds. 

He was arrested in Greece at the US’ request that year while on a family vacation. The US, France and Russia have battled over his extradition ever since.

France was successful in 2020, where Vinnik faced five years in prison for alleged money laundering. More recently, the US reportedly called off its own extradition request. But his lawyer suggested that was a distraction trick aimed at expediting the process through Greece — where Vinnik was initially arrested.

Vinnik believes he’s not a bitcoin launderer

Vinnik, via BTC-e, is said to have handled some of the 530,000 bitcoin (around $9 million back then, nearly $13 billion today) stolen from Mt. Gox, where he allegedly served as the platform’s administrator.

He told Russia Today in 2017 that he didn’t consider himself guilty. According to him, the US had no right to judge a Russian citizen.

His wife told the same outlet she was convinced the US was after him for his “intellectual abilities,” and denied he ever ran BTC-e.

BTC-e was founded in 2011 and allowed trading between the US dollar, Russian ruble, some European currencies, bitcoin, litecoin and ether.

The exchange, which shut shop in 2017 after a 21-count indictment, received over $4 billion in bitcoin during its operation, according to the US Department of Justice. 

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network imposed a $110 million fine on BTC-e and a $12 million fine against Vinnik for their role in the violations in 2017.

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