Alexander Vinnik, 43, the Russian co-founder of bitcoin exchange BTC-e, was arrested in Greece in 2017 on U.S. money-laundering charges and later extradited. He is facing U.S. money-laundering charges and allegedly laundered more than $4 billion of criminal proceeds via BTC-e. Vinnik pleaded not guilty and could be included in a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Russia that could free detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.
Evan Gershkovich was detained in Russia on espionage charges, which both The WSJ and the U.S. government strongly deny. Another U.S. national, Paul Whelan, a corporate-security executive, and former U.S. Marine, has been held since 2018 and was convicted of espionage in 2020 in a trial dismissed by the U.S. as a sham. The U.S. considers both individuals to be wrongfully detained.
Observers in the U.S. see the possibility of head-for-head trades with Russia as the most likely way for these Americans to return home. The theory is supported by previous high-profile deals, such as the release of women’s basketball star Brittney Griner after nearly 10 months of detention on drug charges.
Alexander Vinnik‘s lawyer recently filed court documents in California, expressing the intention to modify a protective order in Vinnik’s case. The goal is to advocate more openly for Vinnik’s trading potential and push for his inclusion in a prisoner swap. The lawyer argues that public campaigning is crucial to maximizing the chances of such an exchange.
According to the U.S. indictment, BTC-e operated without proper registration as a money services business with the U.S. Department of Treasury. The indictment further alleges that the exchange lacked anti-money laundering processes, appropriate “know your customer” (KYC) verification systems, and an anti-money laundering program, all required by federal law.
The indictment claims that Alexander Vinnik, the co-founder of BTC-e, ran a profitable money-laundering operation through the exchange and allegedly facilitated activities such as ransomware extortions, identity theft schemes, and narcotics distribution.