Russian Crypto Exchange Co-Founder Eyes Release Via ‘Prisoner Swap’ – Report


Crypto exchange BTC-e co-founder Alexander Vinnik, who is currently facing charges related to his involvement in an alleged illegal cryptocurrency exchange, has taken a unique approach to secure his release. 

As revealed in a recent article from The Wall Street Journal, Vinnik’s attorney is actively seeking to modify a protective order in his client’s case, aiming to facilitate his inclusion in a prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States. 

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If successful, this exchange could involve the substitution of Vinnik for detained WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich.

BTC-e co-founder Alexander Vinnik. Image: CBS News

Vinnik’s Lawyer Argues For Accused’s Right To Advocate For Prisoner Swap

In a recent court hearing, a lawyer representing Vinnik put forth an argument seeking Vinnik’s opportunity to address the accusations against him and advocate for his inclusion in a potential prisoner swap

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Vinnik, a Russian citizen, is currently being held in the United States after the US Department of Justice charged him in 2017 with allegations of money laundering.

The US authorities accused Vinnik and his crypto exchange, BTC-e, of facilitating various illicit activities, including ransomware attacks, identity theft schemes, and drug trafficking. In July 2017, the US government seized and shut down BTC-e, leading to the arrest of several exchange staff members.

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Reports in September 2022 suggest that the US was open to exchanging Vinnik for Brittney Griner, a professional basketball player from the US women’s pro basketball league who had been detained in Russia on drug charges. However, Griner was ultimately released in 2022 in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, the crypto exchange founder Vinnik pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him by the US. He also denied having control over the direction of BTC-e, asserting his lack of involvement in any wrongdoing related to the exchange.

Brittney Griner, US professional basketball player. Image: AFP-JIJI

Renewed Trade Deal Efforts, US Gov’t Call For Gershkovich’s Release

The push for a potential trade deal involving Vinnik coincides with the US government’s urgency in securing the immediate release of Gershkovich. 

The detention period for Gershkovich was recently extended until August 30. Russian authorities arrested Gershkovich in March, accusing him of espionage. This arrest represents the first instance since the Cold War of a US journalist being detained on spying charges.

Vinnik’s legal journey began in 2017 when he was initially apprehended in Greece on charges of money laundering based on a US warrant. Subsequently, in 2020, he was extradited to France. 

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In France, Vinnik was cleared of allegations related to crypto ransomware but was convicted of money laundering, resulting in a five-year prison sentence. After spending two years in a French correctional facility, he was extradited to the US on August 5, 2022.

The developments surrounding Vinnik’s potential prisoner exchange seek to address both his legal situation and the calls for Gershkovich’s release, reflecting the complex dynamics at play in these ongoing cases.

-Featured image from AP Images/European Union-EP

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Author: Christian Encila

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