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Russian Suspected In Massive Bitcoin Fraud Sentenced In France For Money Laundering

Aleksandr Vinnik (right, file photo)
Aleksandr Vinnik (right, file photo)

A Russian man wanted by the United States in connection with a massive bitcoin-theft scheme has been sentenced in France to five years in prison for money laundering.

Aleksandr Vinnik was handed the punishment in a French court on December 7 after a trial in which prosecutors laid out a scheme involving e-mails disguised as invoices laced with malware that would cripple the target's computer until a ransom was paid in cybercurrency.

They said a total of 188 people had fallen victim to the scheme between 2016 and 2018, netting Vinnik some $165 million.

While Vinnik was cleared of the ransomware-attack charges, he was found guilty of laundering the money he extorted through another software program -- called Locky -- used in the attacks.

Vinnik has claimed he is innocent of the charges and his lawyer said that they will likely appeal the verdict.

The 41-year-old was arrested on a U.S. warrant in 2017 on a Greek beach where he was vacationing with his family.

Vinnik has been identified by U.S. and other authorities as an administrator or manager of a "digital-currency exchange" -- where people can buy and sell cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and others -- known as BTC-e.

The United States accused Vinnik of operating BTC-e, one of the most popular websites for buying and selling bitcoin. The U.S. indictment alleged that the website lacked "basic anti-money laundering controls and policies," making it one of the principal means by which cybercriminals worldwide laundered money.

The United States fought in a Greek court to have Vinnik extradited, but Russia filed a competing extradition request, saying he faces smaller, unrelated criminal charges in Russia.

If convicted in the United States, he would face up to 55 years in prison.

Midway through the legal fight, however, France also lodged an extradition request in a Greek court on similar theft charges, and in January he was transferred to Paris.

Vinnik was one of seven Russians detained or indicted worldwide in 2018 on U.S. cybercrime charges.

With reporting by AFP and Interfax

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