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NZ Police Freezes Money Linked To Alleged Bitcoin Launderer Alexander Vinnik
Alexander Vinnik was arrested in Greece on an extradition order from the U.S. as prosecutors said he allegedly controlled a Bitcoin exchange that laundered billions of dollars for criminal networks.
After his arrest in 2017, he was extradited to France where he is still in custody. He was said to have allegedly laundered 300,000 Bitcoin (about $4 billion) within six years through BTC-e, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world at the time. Further, he was accused of facilitating money laundering, identity theft, drug trafficking and computer hacking.
Vinnik has denied the charges and fought extradition for three years but lost his appeal in January. However, as investigations continued, the police in New Zealand (Asset Recovery Unit) announced the recovery of about 140 million NZD allegedly controlled by a firm in New Zealand. The police said the frozen sum of money is linked to Vinnik and it “is the largest ever restraint of funds in New Zealand police history.”
According to a report by the New Zealand Herald, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said Vinnik previously operated cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e. In the words of Coster, BTC-e which operated from the U.S., did not have anti-money-laundering controls and policies.
Hence, this gave criminals and cyber criminals the opportunity to launder proceeds obtained from various criminal activities including computer hacking, ransomware attacks, theft, fraud, corruption and drug crime through BTC-e.
“New Zealand Police has worked closely with the Internal Revenue Service of the United States to address this very serious offending…These funds are likely to reflect the profit gained from the victimization of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people globally as a result of cyber-crime and organized crime.”
According to Vinnik’s Greek legal team, he is a “computer genius” who is being persecuted because he posed a threat to the global banking system.
“He will likely stand trial in France, then be extradited to the United States to face similar charges, with maximum penalties of up to 55 years in prison,” said New Zealand Herald.