Russian cybercrimes suspect Aleksandr Vinnik (file photo)
A Russian national wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly being involved in a massive bitcoin theft scheme was extradited to the United States where he made his first appearance in court, the Department of Justice confirmed on August 5 .
Aleksandr Vinnik, 42, known as Mr. Bitcoin , was arrested on a U.S. warrant in 2017 on a Greek beach, but eventually was extradited to France where he also faced charges.
Vinnik was sentenced to five years on money-laundering charges, and on August 4 was released, but immediately sent back to Greece, which had requested his return so it could execute the original U.S. warrant for allegedly operating a digital currency website that was used by cybercriminals worldwide to launder money. Russia had also sought Vinnik on lesser, unrelated criminal charges.
"The alleged operator of the illicit cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e was extradited yesterday from Greece to the United States to face charges in the Northern District of California," the Department of Justice said in a statement.
Vinnik was taken into custody in Greece in July 2017 at the request of the United States, the statement said, adding that he made his initial appearance earlier on August 5 in federal court in San Francisco.
Vinnik was charged in a 21-count indictment in January 2017, the statement said.
According to relatives and Vinnik's French lawyer, he may face up to 50 years in prison if convicted in the United States.
The timing of Vinnik's transfer to the United States, which coincided with a Moscow court sentencing U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison on drug smuggling charges that President Joe Biden called "unacceptable," has given rise to speculation that Vinnik may be used in a possible prisoner swap.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed by phone a proposal that Blinken said involved Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison term in Russia on espionage charges that he and his supporters reject.
He did not say who Russia would receive, but media reports said the swap would likely include Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is being held in the United States.
Lavrov and Blinken said on August 5 that they were now ready to further discuss a prisoner exchange.
Vinnik has claimed he is innocent of the charges but also admitted he was involved in hacking and money laundering in Russia, and would cooperate with Moscow on his extradition to Russia.
Vinnik was one of seven Russians detained or indicted worldwide in 2018 on U.S. cybercrime charges.