The U.S., France and Russia Fight Over the Extradition of a Russian Crypto Expert from Greece

The most famous active investigation in the world right now is of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the U.S., which probes into the Russian-meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election, and if the Trump campaign had any connection to it. The investigation had already previously brought to the surface one surprising principal component that is reinforced by an international imbroglio: cryptocurrency.

According to new reports, a Russian cryptocurrency expert who ran a crypto exchange called BTC-e might hold a key role in uncovering extremely delicate information regarding the Russian intervention in the election. Currently detained in Greece, Alexander Vinnik has allegedly aided a special Russian military intelligence unit of hackers labeled Fancy Bear in laundering and moving money via Bitcoin as part of the unit’s efforts to deceitfully shift the voting tide toward the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

There are presently three different countries feuding over the extradition of Vinnik, each one for its own reasons: the U.S. that wishes to unearth information about the election interference; Russia that presumably wants to conceal any such information and had already warned it would exact retribution in case Vinnik won’t be extradite to his homeland; and France that accuses Vinnik of committing cybercrimes against French citizens. In December 2017, the Supreme Court in Greece approved Vinnik’s extradition to the U.S., in mid-July 2018 also approved the extradition to France, and at the end of July additionally approved the extradition to Russia; thus, the decision now lays in the hand of Greece’s brand-new Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Michalis Kalogirou. Kalogirou, for understandable reasons, doesn’t seem to rush with the decision whilst also considering granting political asylum to Vinnik.

American prosecutors allege that Vinnik’s BTC-e had overseen more than $9 billion in Bitcoin, which had been utilized by criminal elements – one of which is the Russian unit Fancy Bear – to move large amounts of money due to the platform’s almost completely anonymous functionalities. Vinnik himself denies all the allegations against him while hurling accusations mainly against the U.S.:

“The U.S. is kidnapping Russian citizens through third countries,” Vinnik said in an interview. “France is just another way, another link for my extradition to the U.S.”

[…]

“I insist that I did not cause any damage to these countries or to the nationals of these countries,” Vinnik said. “I had no knowledge of illegal transactions.”

In July, Mueller’s legal team indicted 12 Russian agents after they had allegedly employed cryptocurrency – and primarily Bitcoin – in order to illicitly influence the election, revealing that cryptocurrency had had a vital part in the Russian meddling. Vinnik’s involvement only further highlights the importance of cryptocurrency for the Russian hackers, and perhaps signifies that the Mueller Investigation just might catch its big break with crypto.