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France Begins Trial of BTC-e Founder Accused of Laundering Mt. Gox Hacked Funds

Alexander Vinnik, a Russian man charged with multiple crimes including Bitcoin fraud worth millions of dollars, will start his trial today in France, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Vinnik, 41, was accused of using ransomware in a €135 million ($157 million) Bitcoin fraud. He now faces a trial in Paris on the count of extortion, money laundering, and criminal association. He could spend up to ten years in prison if found guilty.

The French authorities claimed that the accused was one of the creators of “Locky,” a malware targeting large corporations. Per the report, Locky was delivered through email. Victims who downloaded the malware were asked to pay Bitcoin ransom if they want to regain control of their data.

The fraudsters allegedly used the malware between 2016 and 2018 while targeting companies, legal offices, and local councils in France. About 20 victims claimed they paid the ransom through the famous BTC-e platform. 

BTC-e is a defunct crypto exchange founded in 2011 by  Alexander Vinnik and Aleksandr Bilyuchenko. The exchange handled about 3% of all Bitcoin trading volume in 2015 before the US government shut down the website in 2017. 

Vinnik denied knowing anything about the malware or engaging in any illegal activities. He said that he was only a technical consultant at BTC-e. 

Wanted in Russia and the US

According to the report, the accused is also a wanted man in the United States and his home country, Russia, for similar crimes. 

After shutting down BTC-e, the US accused Vinnik of operating an alleged international money launching scheme. He was also accused of laundering billions of dollars worth of funds stolen from the defunct Mt. Gox exchange

Vinnik was arrested in 2017 in northern Greece at the request of the US government. Following his arrest, Russia, France, and the US entered a tug of war, which lasted two years for Vinnik’s extradition. The Greek authorities ruled that Vinnik would first go to France before the US and then Russia. 

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After he was extradited to France in January, Vinnik declared a “35-day hunger strike saying he wanted to be extradited first to Russia, where he faces lesser charges,” the report said.

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