US sues Russian bitcoin theft suspect for $100 million

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Published: July 27, 2019 12:51:19 PM

The U.S. is attempting to recover penalties of $100 million from the company and Alexander Vinnik for alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act.

The exchange handled some Bitcoins traced to Fancy Bear (Reuters file photo)The exchange handled some Bitcoins traced to Fancy Bear (Reuters file photo)

Digital currency exchange BTC-e and one of its owners, a Russian whose extradition the U.S. is seeking from Greece to face criminal charges, now face a civil lawsuit in California.

The U.S. is attempting to recover penalties of $100 million from the company and Alexander Vinnik for alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. Federal prosecutors in San Francisco charged Vinnik in 2017 with stealing Bitcoins from other virtual exchanges. One legal expert speculated the U.S. is adding a civil suit to get at assets the criminal complaint can’t reach — and to grab assets before they’re gone.

BTC-e is incorporated in Cyprus or the Seychelles, or both, prosecutors said in a statement. Users in various places, including northern California, used the exchange to anonymously trade Bitcoin and other digital currencies, according to the statement.

Bitcoin Suspect Could Shed Light on Russian Mueller Targets

Vinnik was detained in Greece after U.S. also charged him with supervising a digital-currency exchange that helped criminals launder billions of dollars. The exchange handled some Bitcoins traced to Fancy Bear, one of the names used by Russian military intelligence officers accused of stealing and releasing Democrats’ emails to sway voters in the 2016 elections, according to analyst firm Elliptic.

He’s been jailed since his arrest, fighting the U.S. extradition request. Russia is also seeking his extradition. The Russian news agency Tass reported on July 11 that a court council in Thessaloniki extended Vinnik’s detention by six months. He was due to be released July 25, according to Vinnik’s lawyer, Timofei Musatov, Tass said.

“The U.S. is kidnapping Russian citizens through third countries,” Vinnik said in an interview for a Bloomberg News story last year.

The case is U.S. v. BTC-e, 19-cv-04281, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).

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