Founder of Russian crypto exchange eyes prisoner swap with WSJ journalist

Russian Ministry of Finance director comes out in support of regulating crypto

Alexander Vinnik, the co-founder of the Russian crypto exchange BTC-E, is facing money laundering charges in the US related to cryptocurrencies. According to a report published by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), there are chances of a prisoner swap for captured journalist Evan Gershkovich.

He is currently facing charges related to his involvement in an alleged illegal cryptocurrency exchange and has taken a unique approach to secure his release. Vinnik’s lawyer mentioned how Vinnik has become the subject of political negotiations over a prisoner swap with Russia.

The filing emphasizes how public perception impacts those high-level, political negotiations. It highlighted that the U.S. previously offered to trade Vinnik in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner. It is important to note that Griner, who was convicted on drug charges in Russia, was released in December in a prisoner swap that sent convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia.

It is important to note that the U.S. is still seeking the release of Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges, and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March on espionage charges. The U.S. pointed out that the charges against them are baseless and considered them wrongfully detained.

It is highlighted that the allegations against Vinnik mentioned how during the operation in BTC-e and in the process, he stole identities and facilitated money laundering. This included funds from the Mt. Gox hacker. BTC-e allegedly lacked any type of Know-Your-Customer (KYC) or Anti-Money Laundering (AML) procedures, allowing criminals to use the exchange free of restriction.

The prosecutors specifically allege that funds connected to administrative accounts for BTC-e were transferred directly to bank accounts controlled by Vinnik and that he was the beneficial owner. Vinnik has so far pleaded not guilty to the charges levied against him in the US. Further, he pointed out that he has no authority over decision-making.

Vinnik was arrested in Greece in 2017 at the request of the U.S. He was later extradited to France, where he was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to five years in prison. He returned to Greece after serving his sentence, then was extradited to the U.S. In a May 19 court filing, Vinnik’s lawyer argued for modifying a protective order on his case to ramp up efforts to have him included in any potential prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia.

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