Trial of Russian Charged in Bitcoin Fraud Begins in Paris

Trial of Russian Charged in Bitcoin Fraud Begins in Paris
Police officers escort Alexander Vinnik (centre) as they leave a courthouse at the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Greece, on Oct. 4, 2017. (Giannis Papanikos/AP Photo)

PARIS—The trial of a Russian man alleged to have used ransomware in a 135 million euros ($157 million) bitcoin fraud will begin Monday.

Alexander Vinnik, who is also wanted in the United States and in Russia, faces up to ten years in prison at his Paris trial over charges of extortion, money laundering, and criminal association.

French prosecutors say Vinnik was one of the creators of malware called “Locky” which was delivered through email. If downloaded, the recipient’s data was encrypted and they were asked to pay a ransom in bitcoin to free it.

In France, companies, legal offices, and local councils were targeted between 2016 and 2018. Twenty victims paid the ransom through BTC-e, one of the world’s largest digital currency exchanges.

Vinnik, 41, says he was a only technical consultant at BTC-e and had no knowledge of illegal activity. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The United States also wants to prosecute Vinnik, accusing him of laundering billions of dollars through BTC-e. He was arrested at the request of U.S. authorities in the summer of 2017 while on vacation in northern Greece,

After a two-year legal tug-of-war, Greek authorities ruled Vinnik would be extradited first to France, then to the U.S., and finally to Russia.

In January after he was extradited to France, Vinnik began a 35-day hunger strike saying he wanted to be extradited first to Russia, where he faces lesser charges.

By Nicolas Vaux-Montagny and Sylvie Corbet

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