Jailed Bitcoin Expert May Provide Insight Over Russia Election Meddling

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A Russian cryptocurrency expert may be the key to unlocking a U.S. investigation over Russia’s interference with American politics.

Three countries are fighting to extradite Russian crypto expert Alexander Vinnik from Greece: Russia, France, and the U.S.

Vladimir Putin’s government has already threatened retaliation against Greece if he doesn’t return to his homeland.

Mueller’s Russia Probe Fights to Extradite Bitcoin Expert to Access Emails, Names, Bank Accounts

Vinnik was detained in Greece last year after U.S. prosecutors accused him of leading a cryptocurrency exchange, BTC-e.

It’s alleged that the exchange facilitated the money laundering of $9 billion for criminal enterprises, including hacking unit Fancy Bear. This is an alias for the Russian military intelligence officers allegedly involved in stealing and releasing Democrats’ emails, according to the Mueller probe.

The Supreme Court of Greece is expected to rule next week to which country Vinnik will be handed over. In case it favors both France and Russia’s pleas, the final say goes to Greece’s justice minister, who will also examine a political asylum request by Vinnik.

His insights may turn to be highly valuable to the U.S. investigation of election meddling, while being threatening to Russia’s claim of innocence. However, he is not the only Russian cryptocurrency expert in that situation.

Yevgeniy Nikulin, charged with hacking LinkedIn and Dropbox in 2012, and Peter Levashov, were both extradited to the United States from the Czech Republic and Spain, respectively. Vinnik denied the accusations and accused the United States of kidnapping in an interview.

“The U.S. is kidnapping Russian citizens through third countries. 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. I had no knowledge of illegal transactions.”

The Mueller probe concluded that Russian military intelligence officers layered transactions through cryptocurrency exchanges, including Vinnik’s BTC-e. This was to maintain anonymity when they bought time on servers they used to launch attacks.

Cryptocurrency money laundering specialist Elliptic identified the origin of the funds through the blockchain to conclude that BTC-e is linked to Fancy Bear, according to Tom Robinson, Elliptic’s chief data officer.

“There was a strong link between much of the funds allegedly used by the Fancy Bear group and BTC-e. What I can’t say for certain is whether Fancy Bear obtained them directly from BTC-e, or whether there was an intermediary.”

Vinnik’s lawyer argues that the cryptocurrency expert was not running the exchange and that his work didn’t include know-your-customer or anti-money laundering roles.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

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