Alexander Vinnik, the Russian co-founder of an allegedly illicit crypto exchange, BTC-e, is seeking release by way of a deal known as a “prisoner swap.”
According to a May 24 report in The Wall Street Journal, Vinnik’s lawyer is attempting to alter a protective order on Vinnik’s case so that he could be considered as part of a prisoner trade deal between Russia and the United States. This could see him “swapped” for detained WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich.
“Mr. Vinnik should be permitted to … answer the accusations against him and advocate publicly for his inclusion in a prisoner swap,” wrote David Rizk, an assistant federal defender in the Northern District of California.
Citing sources familiar with the prisoner-swap process, Rizk explained that such negotiations require a strong public campaign to “maximize the chances of such an exchange.”
The renewed efforts for Vinnik’s potential trade deal come amid calls from the U.S. government for the immediate release of Gershkovich, who recently saw his detention period extended until Aug. 30.
Gershkovich was arrested by Russian authorities in March for alleged espionage, marking the first time a U.S. journalist has been detained on spying charges since the Cold War.
Vinnik’s push for a prisoner swap deal began in September last year, when his legal team first began urging officials to consider swapping him out for one of the numerous U.S. citizens detained in Russia.
On Dec. 9, 2022, the U.S. agreed to release Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout — nicknamed the “merchant of death” — in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to more than nine years in a Russian jail for attempting to smuggle cannabis oil into the country.
Vinnik was first arrested on money laundering charges in Greece in 2017 by way of a U.S. warrant and was subsequently extradited to France in 2020. In France, Vinnik was cleared of ransomware allegations but convicted on money laundering charges and was sentenced to five years in prison. After serving two years in a French prison, he was extradited to the U.S. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Alleged Russian Cryptocurrency Money Launderer Alexander Vinnik was extradited to the U.S. to face charges stemming from allegedly operating an alleged illicit Bitcoin exchange company which received more than $4 billion worth of Bitcoins. https://t.co/mQx1Yrd7MT— FBI (@FBI) August 5, 2022
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BTC-e was founded in 2011 and was seized by U.S. authorities in July 2017 when they arrested several staff members at the exchange for allegedly assisting Russian criminals in executing ransomware attacks, identity theft schemes and narcotics trafficking.
Vinnik pleaded not guilty to the 21 charges pressed against him, saying that he possessed little in the way of decision-making authority over day-to-day operations at the exchange.
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