France Charges Alleged BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik Following Greek Extradition

French officials have charged Alexander Vinnik, the alleged operator of an exchange that laundered millions of dollars for criminals, with multiple counts including extortion and money laundering.

According to a report by Bloomberg on Tuesday, Vinnik was interviewed by French prosecutors as soon as he was extradited from Greece late last week. Zoe Konstantopoulou, a member of the defense team, said in a news conference Tuesday that Vinnik was a blockchain and computer genius, targeted for his Russian nationality and “persecuted” because of the threat he posed to the international banking system.

France has charged Vinnik on counts of extortion, aggravated money laundering, conspiracy and harming automatic data-processing systems, an official at the public prosecutor’s office told Bloomberg. Wanted in multiple countries, Vinnik has maintained he is innocent of all charges, arguing he was just an employee of the company.

Vinnik was extradited the same day Greece’s Council of State, the country’s supreme administrative court, issued a ruling confirming the extradition was lawful. Having been in detention since July 2017, Vinnik has been on a hunger strike over claims his human rights have been violated. He is currently detained in a French hospital.

“Alexander’s crime is to be Russian and a person with extraordinary technological knowledge that could liberate people economically,” Konstantopoulou said. The defense has also complained against the “inhumane” length of his pretrial detention.

The investigation is currently underway and a trial has not yet been ordered.

Once the court case in France is complete, Vinnik’s lawyers said he will be extradited back to Greece and to the U.S., where he faces similar charges. Once that case has been completed, he will then be sent to Russia and face charges there.

“The Greek Minister of Justice has in essence decided that this person is going to spend his life being extradited, judged and then re-extradited, re-judged and yet again re-extradited and re-judged,” Konstantopoulou said.

Greece had turned down Russian requests for Vinnik’s extradition. Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly raised the matter with then-Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in December 2018, according to Russian media.

Vinnik has previously said he wished to face trial in Russia.

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