During the last 3 years this story hasn’t been a covered a lot by international crypto media. The alleged owner of the BTC-e exchange was arrested in Greece on June 2017, while on vacations with his family and was charged with fraud and money laundering by Russia, US and France for an amount of at least 4 billion dollars. The media in Greece refer to him as “Mr. Bitcoin”.
Today, Alexander Vinnik made the following statement from the hospital, where he is held guarded and in complete isolation, while on his 28th day of hunger strike:
«I am a human being without rights, illegally detained in Greece for 30 months, without being charged with anything. They want to destroy me for my know-how.
They want my head on a plate, just for my knowledge and technological abilities.
I’m undergoing torture and psychological warfare in order to break. They do not allow me to get fresh air, the last time I was in the courtyard, for a few minutes, was on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2019.
My lawyer, Zoe Konstantopoulou , told me, «It’s your last stroll for the decade» and I answered her: «Maybe it’s the last stroll of my life».
I’m on the 28th day of my hunger strike. I don’t know if I’ll ever see my kids and my wife again.
Today they prevented a notary from coming to my ward for two hours to exercise my rights and to sign, as I requested, mandates for the exercise of my rights.
I learnt that the President of the Council of State, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, after what she did in my case, was nominated for President of the Republic of Greece.
She gave my head on a plate and now is being proposed to be Head of the Greek State. What hopes can I have against such power, what are my chances against the governments of USA and France? Two countries in which I have never set my foot in, but they want me on their territory to use me as a human munition against my country, Russia …
I seek the help of every person that is conscious. I call for those who defend human rights to intervene.
Today it’s me, tomorrow it will be one of you…
Don’t let them.
Who is Alexander Vinnik?
The story of the "dark" Alexander Vinnie's case
Alexander Vinnik, against whom an international warrant has been issued, was arrested on July of 2017 in Greece, at the request of Washington. The Greek authorities not only did manage to capture the 38-year-old Russian in Nea Roda, Halkidiki, but according to official announcements, they were also able to intervene at the time when the man was connected via his mobile phone to the management system of the exchange platform, BTC-e, which is his own according to the prosecuting authorities.
As the Greek police statement then mentioned: «He is charged with violations of the US Federal Law, which were carried out online and in particular for:
a) operating an unauthorized money transfer business,
b) conspiracy to commit money laundering,
c) money laundering, in violation of seventeen chapters of the US Code,
d) engaging in monetary transactions of assets arising from specific illegal activities, in breach of two sections of the US Code.
In more detail, since 2011, he has allegedly run a criminal organization that owns, manages and operates one of the most important cybercrime websites in the world. In particular, he is accused of legalizing proceeds from criminal activity by using an online digital currency exchange service. According to estimates by US research authorities, it is estimated that at least four (4) billion dollars have been legalized since the establishment of the site to date, with approximately (7) million digital currency (bitcoin) deposits and approximately (5.5) million bitcoin withdrawals being made through the electronic platform».
Timeline After the Arrest
July 2017: Alexander Vinnik gets arrested in Chalkidiki, Greece while being on vacation with his family.
Initially, a Greek court decided that he was going to be extradited to the USA but shortly after, the French authorities also issued a European arrest warrant with the accusation of «washing» about €130 million stemming from cyberattacks on computer systems for which ransom was requested to be paid in Bitcoins. The U.S. Department of Justice levied a $110 million fine against BTC-e and a $12 million penalty against Vinnik.
In early 2018, the Greek law enforcement uncovered a plan that was aiming to kill Alexander, “The Greek law enforcement received intelligence on plans to prepare an assassination via poisoning with the help of criminals. The head of the prison and the prosecutor of the city of Thessaloniki summoned Vinnik and informed him about the plot to poison him, and special security measures were taken in connection with that.” The murder attempt seemed to be connected to the criminal world, since it all started when his extradition to the US was blocked. “Vinnik wrote an acknowledgment of guilt in Russia, which says he knows about crimes committed in the sphere of financial technologies. He said he is ready to give testimony in Russia and assist the investigation.”
24 July, 2018: Blockchain analytics firm Elliptic published a report asserting that funds had flowed through BTC-e via “Fancy Bear,” a cyber-espionage group reportedly associated with top Russian intelligence agency, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU). Elliptic’s chief data officer, Tom Robinson, stated: “There was a strong link between much of the funds allegedly used by the Fancy Bear group and BTC-e. What I can’t say for certain is whether Fancy Bear obtained them directly from BTC-e, or whether there was an intermediary”.
23 November, 2018: Alexander started a hunger strike that lasted for 88 days until 21 February, 2019, weighting 57kg and losing 30% of his weight. This was done in protest for his detention conditions and alleged violations of his rights.
April, 2019: Vinnik goes to the criminal court to appeal for lift of his detention in order to see his children and his wife (who was seriously ill and suffered from brain cancer). He asked for his right to a fair trial, his right to an effective remedy and his rights of respect and dignity. He also asked to be extradited to Russia. Alexander pleads innocent in all his accusations.
July 25, 2019: The U.S. prosecutors are seeking to recover civil money penalties for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, $12 million from Vinnik and $88.6 million from BTC-e. The indictment asserts that BTC-e “made no effort to register with FinCEN” or “maintain any elements of an AML program” despite more than 21,000 BTC transactions worth at least $296 million being conducted by U.S.-based users on the exchange.
5 November, 2019: Alexander’s mother visits Greece asking for her son’s release 1 day before the court’s new decision for his extradition. She states that her son is being illegally held for 27 months without being able to see his sick wife and his kids (4 & 7 years old), and asked the Greek government why it showed no mercy.
«Alexander Vinnik is not prosecuted for any crime or criminal conduct but for his knowledge, his technical expertise and his computer skills,» stated his lawyer Zoe Konstantopoulou.
20 December, 2019: The final decision is that the 40 year old Alexander Vinnik (“Mr Bitcoin”), will be first extradited to France, then to the USA and then to Russia, according to Justice Minister’s Kosta Tsiara’s decision. Eager was the reaction of the Russian Embassy and Vinnik himself who wanted his extradition to Russia and that’s when he started the hunger strike that goes on until today as mentioned in the beginning of this article.
17 January, 2020: Alexander’s hunger strike continues as he demands respect of his rights.
«Σήμερα ο Υπουργός Δικαιοσύνης εξέδωσε θανατική ποινή μου κ ξεκινώ απεργία πείνας ξανά, γιατί η Ελληνική Κυβέρνηση παραβιάζει το δικαίωμά μου να είμαι ζωντανός». Ο Αλεξάντερ #Βίννικ ξεκινά ξανά απεργία πείνας, αφού ο Υπ.Δικαιοσύνης αποφάσισε την έκδοσή του σε Γαλλία κ ΗΠΑ. pic.twitter.com/1nP5hLZV5q— Zoe Konstantopoulou (@ZoeKonstant) December 20, 2019
Vinnik is probably one of the most talked about people, since he’s being «claimed» by Russia, USA and France, with him consenting to his extradition to the first one, since he is a Russian national. According to Vinnik, his extradition to the US or France can be life-threatening, as he says, the reasons they want him is to turn him into a tool of the information war between the US and Russia.
Personally, I don’t know if he’s guilty of any crimes or not, there’s allegations that BTC-e addresses received Bitcoin from the Mt. Gox hack and from the CryptoWall and CryptoLocker ransomwares. Though this doesn’t mean that he was involved, everyone was free to use the platform.
Speaking about Bitcoin, he says, it’s a legitimate activity that can free the citizens from the banks’ omnipotence and global rule.
Ethnos has some informative reports on the subject in Greek on which this article was based on.
Another article will be released with more details about BTC-e’s history, and also any future updates on the case.
Watch this video by RT, from September of 2017, that sheds some light on Alexander Vinnik’s and his wife’s opinions on the case.