His legal team wants Vinnik to be exchanged for Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal journalist currently jailed in Russia.

Alexander Vinnik, founder of a cryptocurrency exchange and accused of illegal activities, seeks to be part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and the US.

Vinnik, co-founder of BTC-e, is accused of aiding Russian cybercriminals. According to a WSJ report, his lawyers are seeking a protection order so that Vinnik can be considered in a prisoner exchange deal. Thus, he could be “exchanged” by the detained WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich.

Alexander Vinnik and his Fight for Freedom

If the deal is successful, Vinnik would win his freedom in exchange for the release of Gershkovich, who was arrested in March on spying charges in Russia. Recently, his term of imprisonment was extended until August 30, 2023.

The case of possible prisoner exchange is striking for two essential aspects. One is that it is the first time since the Cold War that Moscow has jailed an American citizen on espionage charges. The second is the involvement of a cryptocurrency exchange founder in a geopolitical issue between two nuclear powers.

The Challenge of a Prisoner Exchange

David Rizk, Assistant Federal Defender for the Northern District of California, stated that Vinnik should be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations and publicly advocate for his inclusion in a prisoner exchange. However, he acknowledges that the agreement will not be easy to achieve and will require a lot of support.

Citing sources familiar with the prisoner exchange process, Rizk explained that such negotiations require a strong public campaign to “maximize the chances of such an exchange.” This is not Vinnik’s first attempt to be part of an exchange for citizens detained in Russia, but so far, his requests have gone unheeded.

The Context Behind the Prisoner Exchange

Prisoner exchanges are common in an environment of high geopolitical confrontation. The most recent trade occurred in December 2022, when the United States agreed to release arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for American basketball player Brittany Griner.

Vinnik was first arrested on money laundering charges in Greece in 2017 under a US arrest warrant and was later extradited to France in 2020. In France, Vinnik was acquitted on ransomware charges but convicted on money laundering charges. money and sentenced to five years in prison. After serving two years in a French prison, he was extradited to the United States on August 5, 2022.

BTC-e was founded in 2011 and was seized by US authorities in July 2017, when they arrested several exchange staff for allegedly helping Russian criminals execute ransomware attacks, identity theft schemes, and narcotics trafficking.

Vinnik, meanwhile, maintains his innocence, claiming that during his time at BTC-e he had no say in matters related to helping foreign hackers.

By Audy Castaneda


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