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Russian Bitcoin boss Vinnik appears in SF court in $4B laundering scheme

Alexander Vinnik, center, who headed BTC-e, an exchange he operated for the cyber currency, is escorted by police after Greece’s Supreme Court ruled on December 13, 2017 in favor of extraditing the Russian suspect to the United States to stand trial for allegedly laundering billions of dollars using the virtual currency bitcoin. | Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images

A Russian man charged with money laundering and running an illicit cryptocurrency exchange made his first appearance last week in a federal courtroom in San Francisco following his extradition from Greece.

Alexander Vinnik, 42, was charged in a 21-count indictment in 2017 and shortly afterward authorities in Greece took him into custody at the request of the U.S. government, according to an announcement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California.

No additional information was provided by prosecutors in their announcement regarding the five-year gap between Vinnik’s indictment and his first court appearance.

According to the indictment, Vinnik and his co-conspirators allegedly owned, operated, and administrated BTC-e, a significant cybercrime and online money laundering entity that allowed its users to trade in bitcoin with high levels of anonymity and developed a customer base heavily reliant on criminal activity.

The indictment alleges BTC-e facilitated transactions for cybercriminals worldwide and received criminal proceeds from numerous computer intrusions and hacking incidents, ransomware scams, identity theft schemes, corrupt public officials, and narcotics distribution rings.

The indictment further alleges that the company was used to facilitate crimes ranging from computer hacking to fraud, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking.

The operation laundered more than $4 billion, according to Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr.

“This extradition demonstrates the Department’s commitment to investigating and dismantling illicit cyber activity and would not have been possible without the relentless work of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs,” Polite said.

“The Justice Department thanks the Government of Greece, particularly the Ministry of Justice, for all their efforts in securing the defendant’s transfer to the United States.”

The indictment charges BTC-e and Vinnik with one count of operation of an unlicensed money service business, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. In addition, the indictment charges Vinnik with 17 counts of money laundering and two counts of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.