France has deported Russian crypto entrepreneur Aleksandr Vinnik to Greece, which may hand him over to the US, his lawyer says
Aleksandr Vinnik, a Russian cryptocurrency entrepreneur suspected of fraud in both Russia and the US, has been sent to Greece, his French lawyer told the Russian media on Thursday. Frederic Belo believes the move could be part of an elaborate scheme to eventually extradite his client to America.
Vinnik, a Russian expert in blockchain technology, was arrested in Greece back in 2017 at the request of the US government, which has accused him of laundering between $4 billion and $9 billion through the now defunct BTC-e cryptocurrency trading platform.
In 2019, the Greek Supreme Court ordered Vinnik's extradition to France, where he was also accused of money laundering. The man was then found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. His jail term ended in late June, but the French authorities refused to let him walk free, despite his lawyer's pleas.
The French authorities supposedly planned to "secretly" hand him back to Greece in late June but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) blocked the move, Belo told RIA Novosti news agency.
On Thursday, he was placed on a flight bound for Greece, the lawyer said. In mid-June, the US withdrew its extradition request for Vinnik, which had been filed with the French authorities, paving the way for his deportation back to Greece. However, according to Belo, this may have been part of an elaborate "deceptive maneuver" that would eventually see the Russian entrepreneur handed over to the US.
"Greece might potentially extradite Vinnik to the US, to California, San Francisco on short notice," Belo said.
If Athens grants Washington's request for extradition, Vinnik may face up to 55 years behind bars. The suspect has denied wrongdoing, saying the case against him was nothing but a US set-up.
Vinnik earlier told his lawyers he would like to be extradited to Russia and tried there, to be close to his family. He also said he was ready to cooperate with Russian investigators. Moscow authorities suspect him of illegally obtaining 750 million rubles ($ 12.2 million) through "computer information fraud" and stealing 600,000 rubles ($9,780).
Back in 2018, Vinnik claimed he could shed light on other crimes involving cryptocurrencies, adding that disclosing such information could put his life in danger.