A Russian hacker can be extradited from Greece to the US where he is wanted in connection with a $4 billion (€3.39 billion) Bitcoin fraud case, a court in Thessaloniki has ruled.
Alexander Vinnik, who was arrested in northern Greece at the end of July while on holiday, is suspected of using digital currency exchanges to launder billions of dollars for major organised crime groups involved in activities ranging from hacking to drug trafficking.
Since his arrest, the Kremlin has requested that he be sent back to Moscow, as it has with a number of other alleged Russian hackers wanted by the US who have been arrested in different countries around the world this year.
Russian prosecutors want to question Vinnik in connection with separate fraud offences.
A panel of three judges today granted the US extradition request, which clears the way for Vinnik to be flown to America to face charges that could see him imprisoned for 55 years.
Russia’s bid to have Vinnik extradited back home has yet to come before a court.
While Vinnik denies all charges laid against him by both countries, he has consented to Moscow’s extradition request, but challenged US efforts to have him transferred to America.
His lawyers said they plan to appeal today’s decision at Greece’s Supreme Court, arguing that it was based on “insufficient indications, let alone evidence”.
“We have faith in the Greek justice system and a long road ahead of us,” the Reuters news agency quotes Xanthippi Moisidou, one of Vinnik’s lawyers, as saying.
In the event that the Supreme Court upholds the decision, Greece’s justice minister will have the final say over whether Vinnik’s extradition to the US can go ahead, or whether his transfer to America needs to be blocked in favour of Russia’s request.
US prosecutors accuse Vinnik of running BTC-e, a digital currency exchange they say was used to launder huge amounts of dirty money for organised criminal groups.
He is also said to have helped launder funds stolen when the Japanese Mt Gox Bitcoin exchange was hacked, resulting in its collapse and the loss of virtual currency worth hundreds of millions of euros.
Vinnik claims he only worked as a technical consultant for the owners of BTC-e, and was not its operator.
Speaking after Vinnik’s arrest in July, IRS Criminal Investigation chief Don Fort said: “Vinnik is alleged to have committed and facilitated a wide range of crimes that go far beyond the lack of regulation of the Bitcoin exchange he operated.
“Through his actions, it is alleged that he stole identities, facilitated drug trafficking, and helped to launder criminal proceeds from syndicates around the world.
“Exchanges like this are not only illegal, but they are a breeding ground for stolen identity refund fraud schemes and other types of tax fraud.”