Alexander Vinnik appeared in a Thessaloniki court today, facing a hearing regarding extradition to the United States. The hearing takes place roughly two months after his arrest by Greek police, the latest setback for the alleged operator of cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e and chief suspect in the MtGox theft case.
Vinnik was apprehended in July on suspicion of running a $4 billion money laundering operation related to illicit business activities with Bitcoin. Since 2011, he had been suspected of heading a criminal organization that “owns, operates and manages one of the world’s leading e-crime websites”, according to a police statement.
His arrest coincided with the blackout of BTC-e, leading many to posit a link between the two as well as triggering fears of a platform hack. Vinnik has apparently been under investigation for years by a group of Bitcoin security specialists, following prior investigations into MtGox.
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The heist surrounding MtGox constitutes the largest theft in the history of the cryptocurrency industry – originally, MtGox hot wallet private keys were stolen, facilitating access to a large number of bitcoins. In just under three years, nearly 630,000 BTC had been stolen from MtGox by a hacker – this major hack is suspected to have been in connection with Vinnik himself, who maintained a key place in the overall situation.
Free trip to US?
Vinnik, a Russian national, was originally apprehended on a US warrant, which has consequently paved the way for extradition back to the country. In parallel, Russia has also requested his extradition on separate fraud charges, according to a Reuters report.
While it is unknown what fate awaits him in Russia, in the US Vinnik faces a possible 55-year stay in federal prison. While he has consistently denied any wrongdoing, he’s now one of seven Russian nationals that have been arrested or indicted already this year on similar charges.
The situation is quite convoluted due to the Greek justice department’s ability to approve or block extradition. This means that competing requests cannot be equally dealt with – a court hearing for Vinnik’s extradition to Russia has yet to be set.