A Russian national accused of operating a multibillion-dollar cryptocurrency exchange has been extradited from Greece and is on his way to the United States, according to the suspect’s lawyer.
Alexander Vinnik, in his early 40s, is accused of running a cryptocurrency exchange called BTC-e that allegedly did business with ransomware gangs, drug dealers and identity thieves, according to the Justice Department. He faces charges of money laundering and operating an unlicensed money services business in the United States in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Vinnik’s extradition is a major victory for U.S. law enforcement officials, who have been in a high-stakes extradition battle with Russia to gain custody of Vinnik.
Vinnik’s lawyer in France, Frédéric Bélot, told CNN Thursday afternoon that his client was on a flight from Athens, Greece, to the United States, where he is expected to make his first court appearance in the northern California district.
Bellott said Vinnick insisted on his innocence.
Vinnik’s extradition shows how U.S. prosecutors continue to pursue high-profile Russian cybercrime suspects at a time when any faint hope of cooperating with Moscow on the issue is fading.
Vinnick was arrested in Greece in 2017 and later extradited to France, where he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2020 for money laundering. But Vinnik has also been indicted in the United States since 2017, where the United States and Russia have made extradition requests to Greece.
According to the Justice Department, BTC-e, which shut down in 2017, received more than $4 billion worth of bitcoin during its operation.
In 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed a $110 million civil penalty on cryptocurrency exchanges for “willful violations of U.S. anti-money laundering laws” and fined Vinnik $12 million.