Alleged Bitcoin Launderer’s Lawyer Seeks Prisoner Swap With Russia

The only hope for Vinnik is Russia entering into negotiations with the US over the exchange of prisoners, his lawyer said


Alexander Vinnik; Source: Shutterstock


key takeaways

  • Vinnik’s psychiatrists said he has partial loss of memory due to the stress of isolation
  • He faces 55 years in prison, which the lawyer said equals a life sentence

Alexander Vinnik, the purported bitcoin launder who was recently extradited to the US after more than five years of litigation, is trying to find a way back home to Russia.

His French lawyer Frédéric Bélot requested Russia to mediate a deal with the US that involves releasing Vinnik as part of a prisoner swap.

Bélot wrote in a letter seen by Blockworks that the “only thing that can save Alexander” is Russian negotiations with the US. The letter, addressed to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, details his client’s journey from pre-trial detention to extradition arrest.

Reuters first reported the news on Tuesday.

Bélot’s request comes about a month after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington made a “substantial offer” to Russia to release US citizens held there. Blinken’s offer pertained to WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US marine Paul Whelan, who are detained in Moscow on separate charges.

Vinnik was charged in 2017 under a 21-count indictment for allegedly laundering over $4 billion of bitcoin through his crypto exchange BTC-e. The Department of Justice said he also obtained funds from the Mt. Gox hack and laundered those through various exchanges. 

Chief Don Fort of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation said Vinnik “stole identities, facilitated drug trafficking, and helped to launder criminal proceeds from syndicates around the world.”

He was subsequently arrested in Greece at the US’ request that year while he was at a beachside village with his family. The US, France and Russia had fought for his extradition — and in 2020 he eventually moved to prison in France.

He was then briefly sent back to Athens, from where he was extradited to the US last month. The lawyer told Blockworks in an email at the time that he would continue to defend Vinnik alongside American counsel.

Vinnik denies he laundered bitcoin

Vinnik has never accepted the allegations he’s been charged with, and his lawyer says he continues to deny all charges against him. 

Notably, the lawyer’s letter stated that Vinnik’s prison term in France was stressful — with psychiatrists determining he faced an episodic loss of memory. The lawyer also stated that Vinnik’s wife, Alexandra, died in November 2020 at the age of 34 after she underwent six surgeries for an unspecified illness.  

Vinnik had requested French authorities permission to travel to Russia for his wife’s funeral, but that was “firmly rejected,” the lawyer said.

The letter further notes Vinnik’s children have stopped asking when he will return home as the separation has been extensive.

He faces a maximum penalty of 55 years on charges of operating an unlicensed money service business, conspiracy to commit money laundering and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions. Bélot described the term as equal to a life sentence.

The Russian foreign ministry didn’t return Blockworks’ request for comment by press time.

Don’t miss the next big story – join our free daily newsletter.


Upcoming Events

Hilton Metropole | 225 Edgware Rd, London

MON - WED, MARCH 18 - 20, 2024

Crypto’s premier institutional conference returns to London in March 2024. The DAS: London Experience:  Attend expert-led panel discussions and fireside chats  Hear the latest developments regarding the crypto and digital asset regulatory environment directly from policymakers and experts   Grow your network […]

Salt Lake City, UT

WED - FRI, OCTOBER 9 - 11, 2024

Pack your bags, anon — we’re heading west! Join us in the beautiful Salt Lake City for the third installment of Permissionless. Come for the alpha, stay for the fresh air. Permissionless III promises unforgettable panels, killer networking opportunities, and mountains […]

recent research

Frax report cover.jpg


Frax saw continued development in its frxETH liquid staking derivative and Fraxlend money market throughout 2023. Frax V3 introduces an RWA strategy to drive utility to the protocol's cornerstone product, the FRAX stablecoin.


MicroStrategy discloses the purchase of 16,000 bitcoin throughout November


Digital asset firms face potential new regulatory landscape under Treasury’s proposed authority expansion


Uniswap Labs will be providing trading APIs to Talos investors through Fireblocks


DYDX supply will climb by up to 80% after the Friday unlock, but a couple factors make a massive sell-off appear unlikely


Switzerland-based Pando Asset, which has crypto products trading on the SIX Swiss Exchange, now looks to the US


Binance does not hold the required licenses to advertise and serve customers in the Philippines, the country’s securities regulator said